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Instant Shawarma

I am ashamed of myself. Less than three months before my wedding, and on my first trip to Egypt, I have fallen in love. With a kebab. Where I come from they’re traditionally the late night fuel of drunken pubbers and clubbers, whose primary function is to serve as a greasy sponge to soak up at least some of the alcohol consumed during the course of the night, and restore a sense of order to the insides.

Not so in Egypt. In Egypt the kebab, or more correctly “Shawarma”, is the food of champions and the stuff of local legend. It’s also the reason why, at any time of day or night, when driving along one of the
capital’s many crowded streets you might come across swarms of Cairenes out on the pavement, gently swaying and bustling as the locals push to the front of the crowd in turn to collect their orders. And why wouldn’t they push? The shawarma, specifically the chicken variety, is totally addictive: I don’t know if it’s something in the spices they use, or the fact that the slow-cooked meat is so mouth-wateringly juicy and tender, but every time I finished one on the walk back to our hotel, there was a distinct temptation to turn around and go back for another. Guiltily, I have to admit that it was a temptation I gave in to on more than one occasion.

It’s not just the shawarma either. Throughout our trip, from tiny local restaurants in Aswan with only Arabic menus, to rooftop terraces in Luxor, we were treated to a range of dishes and flavours way above my expectations. From the Middle-Eastern favourites like falafel and hummus, to North African dishes like tagine, to distinctly Mediterranean stuffed vine leaves, all are available in abundance, and all beautifully fresh and tasty. Then there’s the lesser known Nubian cuisine of Southern Egypt that we were treated to on a visit to a local village house. Prepared in a modest kitchen, the banquet we were presented with was truly stunning. Lentil soup, Nile perch, Spiced chicken, and a hearty potato and vegetable stew, along with the obligatory fresh bread and rice that comes with every meal in this carb-crazy country, made for a feast that was wolfed down rapidly by a hungry and appreciative group.

In spite of this variety and the range of delicacies I was still yet to try, on arrival back in Cairo my first port of call was obvious. With its yellow sign backlit by fluorescent tubes, the small but perfectly formed ‘Taza’ in El Dokki, Giza, was like a flame to this moth, and I was all too ready to fly back into the fire.

On the last night of our trip before heading home, after yet another shawarma and a dinner of grilled pigeon, stuffed vine leaves and the most delicious baba ganoush, I did start to feel a little queasy. But then I suppose, sometimes, love will do that to a man.

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Our group’s Shawarma restaurant of choice, Taza, in El Dokki, Giza