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Kosher Kebab Comes up a Bit of a Turkey

Posted on the 25 May 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
Kosher kebabs in Israel

Kosher kebabs in Israel. Photo credit: Gabrielle Jackson

Schawarma was the last thing on my list to eat that I had not yet eaten in Israel. Given my penchant for schawarma, this was a serious concern. I’d managed hummus, felafel, bagel, matzo ball soup, gefilte fish, kebab. Latkes, which are fried potato cakes eaten at Hannukah, were not even on my list and I’d still managed to tick them off with double points, since I made them myself.

So, as is my way, I became obsessed. The trouble is, it’s hard to ever feel hungry in Israel because people feed you all day long. It’s a stereotype for a reason. Even my very secular friend has the very Jewish mother way of feeding us till we almost burst. Right when I thought I might never eat again, she brought out the most delicious halva I’ve ever tasted in my life. Another night, after a huge lunch of hummus, kebab, felafel and salad in Abu Ghosh, and then homemade quiche whipped up by her husband for dinner, she brought out the leftover chocolate torte he had made the previous evening (yes, he is perfect.) When I declined, she said, “In Buddhism they believe cakes have feelings too. If we leave it, it will be offended.”

What can you say to that?

But back to the schawarma and my obsession with eating it. I had wandered past a delicious smelling schawarma in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City one day when my tummy was stuffed with hummus and couldn’t fit it in. We had a tour of the Western Wall tunnels at 10 pm, so we agreed we’d come back early to the Old City and have the schawarma for dinner. I have a nose for good schawarma, I advised my friend Olivia, and this was good. At about 9 pm, we were hungry at last and wandered down to the Old City. Upon entering Damascus Gate, however, we soon realised the Muslim Quarter closed early. There was no schawarma to be found, or food of any kind, by 9 pm. So we headed off to the Jewish Quarter to see what we could find with grave disappointment written on our souls. (Well, mine at least. I’m not sure Olivia was too worried, having just finally eaten the Hannukah donut she’d been lusting over for days.)

As we entered the Jewish Quarter I smelt it before I saw it – SCHAWARMA!

“They’ve got schawarma,” I exclaimed. “And it’s kosher!”

Olivia seemed genuinely impressed.

When they told me it was turkey I didn’t believe them. They seemed bemused I was so shocked at the idea of turkey schawarma. I’ve never even heard of turkey schawarma. How exciting, I thought. It looked good, it smelt good and it was kosher. Knocking off two firsts for the price of one is surely impressive on any day.

It came in a pita with hummus (of course), salad and pickles. The guy working in the shop was very friendly and he came and stood by our table as we ate. After a few bites he looked at my kebab and said, “It needs sauce,” grabbed it out of my hand and took it back inside to add extra tahini and a mango sauce. I told him it was good, but I was lying.

“Why am I always disappointed every time I eat turkey?” I asked Olivia, when our little friend was out of earshot.

“Because it’s tasteless,” she noted. “The spicing is nice, but that’s all you can taste.”

I will forever be bewildered why people bang on about turkey. It is one of the most overrated foods on the face of the earth. There are so many better birds to eat!

But Olivia was right about the spicing, so I asked our friendly worker what it was. It was secret, of course, he could not possibly tell me. But he did agree to take a photo of me eating it and posed for a shot himself. Upon taking my photo, he looked at the result and said, as though making a startling discovery, “You have a nice face. Do you want to come to my place for nargileh?”

Nargileh is the water pipe also known as hooka pipe and sheesha. When we said no because we were tired he said, “You can sleep at my place, there’s two rooms.”

He said it with such nonchalance, I almost felt like I was the 18-year-old and he was 34. I know Israelis are super friendly and hospitable but this didn’t seem kosher, unlike his kebab. As Olivia said, “I didn’t get a good Israeli vibe from him; I got a ‘I want to get two western women back to my place’ vibe.”

So did I.

“I don’t know,” I said to our young friend.

“Why not!”

“We don’t know you.”

“But you will after, or now if you want,” he said, without even the hint of a grin.

How can you argue with such practicality?

My kosher turkey kebab gets only two chillies unfortunately. I’m giving it two for the novelty factor and the spicing. The salad and hummus were both very good but they were unevenly distributed in the pita, which meant you ate the meat first and then got to the sauce and salad. This does not make for an enjoyable kebab. But the young worker made for an enjoyable encounter despite the fact we never rang him or went to his house for nargileh after our tour.

This post first appeared on KebabQuest.

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