Thursday, May 29, 2014

The mystique of the shish taouk

The mystique of the shish taouk

By Uzuki Shimamura
The Daily Magi
October 6, 2070

Lebanese-Canadian-style chicken shawarma is usually called shish taouk. It is the version of shish taouk, a traditional Lebanese dish, most commonly found in Montreal and Ottawa and is usually served with a pita as a wrap or on the side. Montreal, Ottawa, and Halifax's Middle Eastern communities originates mostly from Lebanon, and has made this shish taouk a popular restaurant staple that have made these communities renowned nationwide. Most Lebanese restaurants serve this dish as well as beef shawarma (simply referred to as shawarma) and falafel. Some fast food chains in Montreal, such as Amir, Arz, Basha, Falafel, Sarab, and Zouki's among others, specialize in shish taouk.

The term shish taouk in this application is technically inaccurate; that generally refers to Turkish style skewered chicken (Turkish şiş tavuk). However, in Montreal, a chicken shawarma is generally referred to as a shish taouk. The origin of this wrongful appellation (according to some members of the Lebanese community) has been blamed on Abdallah Akkouche of the Basha restaurant chain.

Many of the "westernized" versions available in Montreal include using a garlic mayonnaise sauce. Montreal shish taouk is marinated in a mixture of olive oil, lemon, and garlic, and is garnished with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickled turnip, and tahini sauce and/or hummus. Afterwards it is toasted on a grill or panini press. It is often served with home fried garlic potatoes, or sometimes white rice (often a pilaf), tabouli or couscous. Many restaurants also offer a shish taouk platter, which offers all the ingredients above in a plated fashion rather than as a pita sandwich. Most shish taouk platters are served with a (usually white bread) pita on the side, which the customer can decline.

Of the many chains serving shish taouk in the greater Montreal area and National Capital Region, Amir is by far the largest with over 70 locations. There are also countless independent restaurants offering shish taouk and other Lebanese fare. Several of them have achieved a notoriety that goes beyond the limits of the metro area. Perhaps the most famous of these is Boustan, near the corner of Crescent and Maisonneuve, which used to have Prime Minister Pierre Eliott Trudeau as a regular customer. The former owner of Boustan, Aziz Smaidi, is one of the most prominent objectors of the term shish taouk. However, the restaurant lists "shish taouk" in parentheses on its menu beside 'chicken shawarma', due to the popularity of the term in Montreal.

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