Wednesday, July 07, 2010

A special shwarma experience + 1

Today I abandoned the Jewish writers tour to sit and write this in a café instead. The tour was frustrating. Not only was it in Polish without a formal translator, but since most of Jewish Warsaw was litterally obliterated in the war, not many of the actual places remained to visit.

I sat in what used to be the ghetto, in a street what now hosts the important annual Singer festival. This block of buildings are all that remain of the ghetto buildings. They are without facades, brick exposed, awaiting a scheduled rennovation. Photos of old Warsaw jews hang from them, a permanent exposition.

Oh yum! They serve ice coffee in one of the ways I like it best: blended and milky. A creamy shake for adults. Not a frappuchino – not so much ice. And here is my cake. A dream of soft (but not mushy) merengue, light layers of cream, and the freshest strawberries imaginable.

On the subway now. Thre is only one line. It’s enough. Enough to get us where we need to go: from our Stalinist-style student hotel in the city’s perifery to the Shalom Foundation downtown where hour classes are held. And enough subway to get lost.

Today we took the metro from school one stop in the wrong direction on our way to meet the tour. Hungry for lunch, we decided to eat before correcting our mistake. Adi keenly spotted a kebab place by the metro exit. Aka, a shwarma joint. We left the perfect sunlight and entered a dim pocket of Middle Eastern delights. We ordered by pointing and inventing. “Felafel?” I asked hopefully. Negative. Adi offered to leave but I saw promising salads and was undaunted. A Polish girl who knew three words of English was brough in from the kitchen to help “translate” my order, an improvised ventarian sandwich. I pointed at the light and dark meat shwarma spits and said “No”. I pointed at the salads and said “Salatka – TAK”, an nodded. Ditto the fried eggplant. And attempting to read the word and guess I said “Chleb” – bread. I eyed some Turkish yogurt drink and pointed to that too for my protein. It was a good call – a  light, yummy buttermilky drink.

The young guy benind the counter doesn’t speak Arabic (I asked). Turkish? “KURD.” I understand that he is not fond of Arabs. Probably not a big fan of Turks either. “Where are you from?” he communicates the question via the Polish girl.

“New York,” Adi answers for both of us, an unusual answer for him. I don’t elaborate.

“Really?” the Kurd seems to ask. I don’t understand his words but his suspicion is clear as is his retort (also in Polish) to Adi,  “You don’t look Polish.”

Adi sits to eat his Shwarma. I can’t wait to tell my bro about what I just saw. After wrapping a full pile of meat, salads and sauces, our Kurdish friend pressed the shwarma sandwich on a grill like a panini.

A shwarma panini.

An exciting shwarma variant.

Meanwhile, Hussein is called in from the ktichen. He doesn’t speak Arabic either, despite the name. Apparantly he’s been brought in because he has some crucial English vocabulary that the Polish girl lacks. He also has excessive gaps between his front teeth.

“Chili sauce?” he asks, holding a red squirty bottle usually associated with ketsup. I hesitate only for a second, fearing the wrath it may cause my traveling stomach later but quickly nod and say “TAK.”

“Garlic sause?” he asks, this time rasining a yellow squirty bottle usually associated with mustard. I nod again, “Tak!”

“Thank you” in Kurdish is “spaat”. I remember this after the 3rd try by telling myself that it resembles the start of the Russian “Spaacibo”.

I join Adi. I look around. A Polish version of “hot or not” is on TV. A small lunch crowd is forming. I take a bite. Boy am I glad we got off at the wrong stop. My sandwich is utterly kick ass. The chili sauce is not too hot, but mixes perfectly with the garlic sauce to give delightful seasioning to the purple cabbage sald. The breaded, fried eggpland (which the Kurd heated in the microwave after panini-ing the rest of my sandwich) is just the right consistency of done but not mushy. It is all served in a simple round bread that is just thick enough to suck up the excess sauces and grease and makes it all easy to hold.

A bit more on the garlic sauce, since I was discussing it with bro last week in New York: Unfortunatly, I was not able to really judge the “delivery method”. Was it mixed with potato, as was a version bro recently experienced? I don’t think so. Oil? Seems so, but if so the garlic was truly pulverized, or perhaps the it was more of an infused oil. Either way, what it did better than any garlic sauce I’ve known was to successfully distribute the garlic flavor efficiently and evenly througout the sandwich. So while garlic was ever-present, it was not overly present in any one bite.

And how did the panini shwarma thing work? I have to follow up with Adi. I was too busy enjoying my delighful sandiwich and discussing the experience to even ask. Adi said we could tell him on our way out where he’s really from. But I’m glad we didn’t because we may have to go back for more!


And tonight at the little bakery on the way home I found a rare treat: spit cake! I read about it in a New Yorker article but had never seen it, let alone tasted it. I walked in to the shop not knowing what I would choose, thinking I’d leave it up to Ahuva. But there it was. A stack of thick semi-circles, with layers as in tree rings. Spit cake is made by slowly pouring layer after layer of sponge cake batter over a moving spit. A shwarma cake. I had to try it.

We enjoyed it after Ahuva went to bed. It was lovely. Slightly smokey. Not too sweet. With an even better after taste.