The famous Levantine sandwich is as ubiquitous on Dubai's mean streets as the cheeseburger.
Yet, the shawarma is somehow immune to the sort of rampant commercialism that has seen the burger morph into the double whopper and the mighty zinger. Of all the vendors that dole out this staple wrap, none have dressed it up as some mutant version of the original. Subtleties account for the variance in shawarmas from place to place around the city; each has its own discernible flavour and it's difficult to figure out why.
The ingredients are by and large standardised, leaving pitta pushers to concentrate on substance — the quality of produce and attention to detail. Also of monumental importance is the chef's sense of proportion: nobody wants too little sauce, too many tomatoes or a morsel of chicken buried in a wall of bread.
So if next time your favourite shawarma spot serves up a plate of tosh, you could assume it's training day for the cook's nephew, and not a general decline in food standards. The construction of the shawarma, after all, is as important as the materials it comprises.
A crowd favourite, Automatic is perhaps the best known fast(ish) food Lebanese joint in Dubai. Lebanese is the default shawarma of Dubai. It's easy in this city to forget that many a nation dotted around the Mediterranean came up with unique versions. Nevertheless if there were to be an ambassador of the Dubai shawarma, it would be Automatic. It is in the meat department that this restaurant excels. The chicken here is tender with a texture consistent with that of brown meat found on the bird's leg or thigh. Pickles, garlic, onions and tahini sauce are detectable. The insertion of French fries into the wrap itself is a winning move.
The alternative is the succulent lamb shawarma in which parsley is the dominant undertone. A generous quantity of lamb is squeezed into thin Saj bread to make a fulfilling ensemble.
Price: Dh6 (Dh16 for large)
Contact: 04 434 2355
The relatively upscale and cosy furnishings of Café Blanc in Marina Mall and Dubai Mall are the setting for another Lebanese spot that has received rave reviews of late. Presentation is emphasised here but thankfully not at the expense of anything else. The options are chicken and beef and the chicken takes it by a long shot. Seasoning on the chicken seems signature — hints of cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom are ever present, more so than at other shawarma spots. The bread is thick in comparison to other restaurants as well. The garnish — veg and sauce — is of the typical variety.
Overall it's not the type of shawarma that will blow your socks off, and at Dh45 it is extortionate compared to other options. But for those who appreciate basics done well, Café Blanc more than suffices.
Location: Dubai Mall, Marina Mall
Contact: 04 434 0828
This Dubai Mall food court resident represents a shift away from the norm in Dubai. The Jimmy the Greek Gyros Pitta comes from Greece. A gyros is a type of shawarma made from rotisserie-roasted lamb thinly sliced into thick pitta bread. It is then drizzled with tomatoes, onions and fresh tzatziki sauce.
It is similar to a doner kebab, but not nearly as overbearing and the ingredients here have no trans fats. After trying one of these incredibly hearty wraps, one wonders why there aren't more places like this in town. It's a little pricey, but it blows everything else out of the water.
Location: Dubai Mall
Contact: 04 339 9979