I went on a trip to the UAE for an intelligence exchange conference. Per diem was a cool $105 a day. There was no way I was going to spend that amount unless I ate in high-end restaurants. That wasn’t me – food could be had on the cheap. The first day, I strolled down to the souk to see what was up. The gold market was fabulous, so I ordered a couple custom made rings with the Martelle coat of arms. They would be ready in a day and at the price of the gold – no cost for workmanship.
In the market, there was a shawarma vendor. This is kind of like a hot dog stand in the United States, but we don’t have hot dogs in the Middle East, so we’ll settle for shawarma.
Shawarma is from a spit, where layers of lamb are cooked vertically with the heating elements in the rear. The shawarma chef, I guess that’s what we’ll call him, slices the cooked outside parts of the meat from the spit as it spins. The meat falls into a large steel pan at the bottom. He scoops up this meat, puts it on a flatbread, and adds some vegetables, maybe, and a yogurt sauce. The bread is heated for a few seconds by the spit and the taste is fantastic! The first day in the UAE, I had three at a cost of less than five dollars. The rest of my per diem from the trip would buy my parents their rings, assuming that I ate shawarma for my main meals. It was going to work out quite well since the food was so good.
The next day was significantly hotter. Although it was April, the temps on this day headed north of 80 degrees Fahrenheit. I took my stroll from the hotel to the souk, salivating at the thought of another shawarma. When I got there, there was a small line of people waiting. The shawarma chef was working like a fiend. I watched as he moved like a hibachi chef, in rhythm with the rotating spit. There was a new sound to his work, the sound of sizzling grease. The pan below the spit was hot and the shawarma chef was sweating profusely. His sweat was dripping into the pan where it sizzled. The meat being cut from the spit was falling into the same metal tray.
Was I the only prude in this group of hungry souls waiting to get a shawarma? After each customer paid and was given his shawarma, he strolled off, enjoying his meal. The next would step up and await his lunch. Suddenly, I no longer had a desire for a shawarma. I returned to the hotel for an overpriced, but less salty meal…