Friday, July 1, 2011

Sheesh! What's the difference?!

Since arriving in Saudi, I've learned a lot about the cuisine of the Arabian peninsula. I feel the need to clarify the names of a few dishes because those of us in the West have kind of generalized terms, and if you ordered from a menu based on what we call it in the States, you'll get a surprise when your meal arrives.

First confusion: Kebabs are just food on a skewer. With summer now in full swing at home, people are probably using this term a lot with regards to backyard cookout menus. "Come over, we're grilling up some kebabs!" On an American grill, kebabs would probably look like this:

Surf 'n' Turf Kebabs with Cilantro-Lime Sauce

But that is not the case in the Middle East. It's true, kebabs are on a skewer. But instead of taking fresh vegetables and marinated chunks of meat and impaling them, Saudis process the meat, marinate it with spices of all kinds and form it into a meat log...THEN they skewer it up and grill it.

Real kebabs look like this:

Yeah. They kind of look like poop. But that does not make Saudi kebabs any less savory! I don't know what they put in the spice mix, but the kebabs here are soo delicious!

What grillmasters in the States call kebabs are actually called "shish tawook" in Saudi Arabia (alternate spellings include sheesh taouk, sheish tawuk, and shesh tahwuq. It's phonetic, so sound it out however you like). The shish tawook are skewered up and then marinated in a delightfully yummy sauce of yogurt and spices, which probably causes the calorie count to sky rocket but I don't care because I LOVE IT.

Second confusion: Gyros are shawarma. I guess this is really a matter of semantics. From what I understand, "gyro" is a Greek term, but the ingredients are similar. However, in order for a dish to be called "shawarma," the meat has to come from this:

The log-o-meat. This meat is carved from the rotating bulk of flesh and spices and then either served on a plate with rice and hummus (which is called a shawarma dish here), or turned in to a wrap (which is just called shawarma or shawarma sandwich). Shawarma does not come in a pita, like a gyro. But gyros have the same kind of meat.

I'm not trying to be a food snob, just trying to clarify for anybody who might travel to this region in the future or befriend an Arab that's fresh off the boat. This was one of those things that the Mister and I thought we knew before coming here. That was not the case, and I'm sharing that experience with you.

Vicariously yours,

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