Tradition meets the exotic at Abu Dhabi’s Shawarma Time restaurant

A new shawarma restaurant in Abu Dhabi has been quietly turning the traditional concept upside down and trimming a lot of the associated fat in the process, offering sandwiches based around unheard-of fillings including hammour, buffalo, turkey and mountain gazelle.
The Shawarma Time restaurant on Najda Street in Abu Dhabi. Delores Johnson / The National
The Shawarma Time restaurant on Najda Street in Abu Dhabi. Delores Johnson / The National

A new shawarma restaurant in Abu Dhabi has been quietly turning the traditional concept upside down and trimming a lot of the associated fat in the process, offering sandwiches based around unheard-of fillings including hammour, buffalo, turkey and mountain gazelle.

Next month, Shawarma Time, on Najda Street will start offering two more exotic versions: ostrich and goat shawarma.

Each of the shop’s offerings come delicately wrapped in either square-shaped half-wholemeal bread, Lebanese saj bread or thinner Arabic bread.

Adventurous types can also choose between six different sauces, including sweet chilli, Indian masala and tartar.

Since Shawarma Time opened last August, the mountain gazelle meat has been proving the most popular of the exotic meats of offer – particularly with local clientele.

“Thirty per cent of our weekend customers come to sample our gazelle, which is legally sourced from a farm in Al Ain,” explains the managing director, Lilian Banin Joumah.

Lilian is Brazilian and her husband and co-founder of the business, Issa Joumah, is Jordanian, so the regular menu is a healthy fusion of Brazilian influences and Middle Eastern traditional offerings.

That means a popular appetiser, coxinha – Brazilian potato dough balls – is filled with a choice of shawarma meat. The recipe is an adaptation of a snack Lilian’s mother used to cook for her as a child.

But the idea of opening a shawarma restaurant was Issa’s.

“My husband loves shawarma,” says Lilian. “We’ve lived in Abu Dhabi for 10 years and we used to visit shawarma restaurants all the time, but Issa used to find faults with all the shawarma restaurants here. We started holding gatherings at home for friends to try out our own shawarmas on them, and found we could make better shawarmas ourselves. We realised people were becoming more health conscious, so we thought – why not follow that trend, and offer a shawarma with less fat? The quality of our meat is better than our competitors, so we’ve had to increase the price.”

A standard shawarma at Shawarma Time is priced at Dh15, and speciality meat shawarmas are Dh25.

“Because it costs us so much to bring the exotic meats in, we don’t make a profit from them,” admits Lilian. “We sell these meats to catch people’s attention.

“They’re also really tasty, but sometimes it’s hard to persuade people to try what they’re not used to. We did offer shark for a while, and people gave us strange looks when we told them the special of the day was shark shawarma. But it was so tasty! It’s a shame people have such negative perceptions of shark.”

Fresh Indian buffalo was put on the specials menu to attract more Indian customers.

It tastes similar to the lean veal beef also served at Shawarma Time, but with a sweeter and richer flavour.

The seafood shawarma contains squid and shrimp, and was made available following a suggestion by a regular customer.

In the past, camel shawarma was also on the menu, but Lilian decided to take it off due to reports the Mers virus can be contracted by eating camel meat.

• Shawarma Time is open from 10am to 1am. Call 02 6336633 or visit Shawarma Time

artslife@thenational.ae

Published: May 13, 2014 04:00 AM

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