Cafe Society: Shawarma drama
Saturday 31 January 1998
Maybe it's just that "doner" is easier for a drunk to articulate; maybe it's that no-one thinks it's worth wasting good meat on someone who's going to be dropping it all over the pavement before they get it into their mouth; maybe it's just that the Greeks and Turks settled in the UK earlier. Whatever the reason, it's still a mystery why kebab shops proliferate in every high street when shawarma, the favourite bus-station snack of the Middle East, is hard to track down.
There's little obvious difference between the two: both consist of meat, salad and bits-and-bobs in flat bread; but to compare kebabs with shawarma is a bit like comparing spam and prosciutto. A nice big handful of shawarma has all the subtlety and aroma that kebabs lack. And, as its primary function is not as wadding for beer, it doesn't play merry hell with the digestion.
For really excellent shawarma, head for the Arab quarters: Edgware Road and particularly Bayswater. On Queensway, between the two tube stations, lurks Taza Take Away, half a shopfront shared with a food store that advertises Iranian Caviare on a piece of cardboard in the window. You will recognise it by the queue outside; the food here has a reputation and seems also to be popular with Chinese people, despite the number of excellent dim- summeries nearby.
Taza is replete with Middle-Eastern bus station charm: a tiny strip of tiled room with eight high stools against a counter in the back, two tables on the pavement and framed scripts and pictures dotted about the place. As with all tiny places, it seems to employ an inordinate quantity of staff to slice the meat off the spit, cram it into a pitta and slam the lot into a Breville-style machine to toast, while talking at top volume.
Chicken and lamb are pounds 2.50, mixed pounds 3.00. Fresh carrot or apple juice or a banana shake is pounds 1.20 or divine melon juice just pounds 1.50. Nutty, honeyed sweets are two or three for a pound.
After a Taza shawarma, the words "I could kill for a kebab" will take on a whole new meaning.
Taza Take Away 35a Queensway W2 (0171-727 7420)
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