What’s right next to Domino’s and actually yummy? The Shawarma Place
It’s kind of incredible how food and memory are so entwined. Nostalgia and longing for home can be so satiated by just a simple meal. That is what I realized when I walked down Elm Street, into a small restaurant by the Domino’s called “The Shawarma Place.” As an Egyptian woman in Medford, it’s hard to get your cultural fixes without venturing onto the T. Though Carm may attempt a couscous here or a falafel there, the spices are never quite right, the hummus never quite authentic. Moreover, it seems that the entire world’s concept of Middle Eastern cuisine is very limited to these Mediterranean tropes of chickpeas and grains. So imagine my joy when my eyes looked up at the menu and discovered food I haven’t seen prepared in months. From foul mudamas (mashed fava beans with olive oil, garlic, onion, lemon, and cilantro wrapped in pita bread with tomatoes) to a kafta sandwich (ground lamb and beef mixed with finely chopped parsley, onions and spices, also wrapped in pita bread with tomatoes, pickles, onions, and tahini sauce.)
After making that classic eye contact that all Middle-Easterners share when they notice another Arab, I went up to the counter (very much a deli-style vibe) and took the plunge, a foul sandwich and chicken shawarma to go. A quick exchange and can of Diet Pepsi later, and I was on my way out with two warm pita wraps, protected by tinfoil, tossed into a brown paper bag. Sure the joint doesn’t have much character, a few outdated pictures of the Mediterranean Sea hung on the walls and a large menu took up much of the overhead, but hey, it’s a fast food place and the food was extraordinary compared to similar options in the area (speed and price-wise that is.) As I bit into my pita-wrapped fava beans walking down Elm I felt such warmth (both literally and figuratively,) something that certainly does not happen often. The ratio was on point but listen, you gotta like pickles, if not, just ask to remove them. Still, I was not sure how I felt on the shawarma, I had eaten it much later (surprisingly, one sandwich was filling enough) and so it was cold and a little soggy. The chicken was dark meat, which tasted good but I’m not sure tasted “right” and the vegetables were perfectly crisp… Thankfully, the tahini sauce tied them together. But you know, in the name of science I had to return, this time with company.
As I dragged my friends over to the same little restaurant, next to the Domino’s, all the way down Elm, I found myself having to reassure them that the food was delicious. I was starting to get nervous that maybe I was not being objective, and that my craving for homestyle cuisine was obscuring my judgment on a place that, maybe to the objective consumer, was just all right. Slightly nervous, we all ordered and took our seats, deciding we would actually have the order to stay. Two of my companions ordered “platters” while my roommate and I got sandwiches. This time, I got the kafta and I must say it was much better than the chicken shawarma I had been mildly skeptical about. The meat was so well seasoned, the perfect blend of Arabic spices, and the texture was so accurately combined that I knew this was not just my blind favoritism, this was objectively solid. While the prices have certainly risen, I was told most sandwiches ranged from $4-5, now they are between $7-8, I would still say they are filling and worth it. The platters were gigantic and full of delicious sides like beets, rice pilaf, and roasted vegetables. An order of stuffed grape leaves really took me back, reminding me of evenings spent at the kitchen table with my mother and grandma, rolling balls of rice and placing them in the center of the moist leaf to wrap around into the perfect cylinder, and were a treat for the table. Everyone enjoyed their meals, which was a huge relief for me, and now I can objectively say that you will too! Certainly, check it out.
Food (taste): A
Food (presentation): B