Food Stories: the history of Shawarma

There wasn’t really a global shawarma scene until the last 50-odd years (life before shawarmas must have been awful) but since its birth, the tasty treat has gone global. You can now find the delectable dish in the tiniest corners of small towns all the way up to luxury eateries in top-tier cities!

Even though there’s no documented history about its origin, it is said that Nomadic tribesmen in the Ottoman Empire used to cook kebabs on their swords. This technique was supposedly the go-to method for cooking kebabs until Turkish chef Iskender Effendi created the Döner Kebab, using a skewer to vertically grill lamb and cut it into thin slices during the 1860s in Bursa, Turkey. Soon enough, different types of kebabs were developed across the region, including Şiş Kebab, Urfa Kebab, and a trademark kebab named after the inventor himself, Iskender Kebab.

Turkish immigrants gradually introduced döner kebabs to Western Europe, notably Germany, Greece and The Netherlands. Thanks to Arab immigrants, Gyros became a popular feature on Greece’s dining scene, eventually becoming the country’s street food staple.

A wave of Lebanese, Turkish and Iraqi immigrants moved to Mexico in the dawn of the 20th century and similar to Arabs in Greece, they popularized shawarmas by opening a slew of restaurants. Mexicans soon started calling shawarmas ‘Tacos Arabes’ until they started making their version of what’s nowadays called ‘Tacos Al Pastor’!


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