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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mystery Meat

My brother-in-law is pretty fussy, particularly about food. In the 1980s, he and my sister made frequent visits to the city. Although our budgets were much more limited at the time, there was no way he was going to eat anything that was called Shawarma or looked like the hunk of meat on a spit in the photo - no "mystery meat" for him. On a hot summer's eve, strolling down trash-littered MacDougal Street, eating a food like this being sold streetside was a line he would not cross. In his defense, I must agree that spit of meat on MacDougal Street has never been very appealing.
To this day, shawarma is a great little source of humor between us and the mere use of the word will elicit chuckles if not guffaws. But shawarma is a serious food served in countries around the world.
Shawarma is a middle Eastern Arabic sandwich. The meat may be lamb, mutton, beef, goat, or chicken (and occasionally mixtures). I is skewered and roasted on a long spit and served in a pita, typically with tomatoes, onions and yogurt sauce. There are a myriad of spellings* and the sandwich is similar to others in the region, such as the Gyros of Greece or döner from Turkey. Yatagan, at 104 MacDougal Street, serves the Turkish variant known as döner kebab.
I keep an open mind and in reading various food reviews from many different sources, I find that numerous diners love a good shawarma or döner and Yatagan appears to please. Comparison reviews of their döner kebab with others in the immediate area appear favorable. The falafels here are also touted by many to be superior to that of Mamoun's, a village standby.
However, there is more mystery here than in the meat. According to the New York Times, on October 22, 1987, the owner of the Yatagan Kebob House, Gultekin Ismihanli went beserk:
"A 42-year-old restaurant owner barricaded himself inside his Greenwich Village apartment last night, fired six shots from a .45 pistol into the air and held the police at bay for eight hours before surrendering early today, officials said. No one was wounded in the incident, which began around 4:25 P.M. when the man, Gultekin Ismihanli, fired the shots out of the second-floor window of his apartment at 106 Macdougal Street at Bleecker Street, the police said."
No reason was given for the incident. Perhaps my brother-in-law was right and there is something to fear in that amalgam of twirling mystery meat :)

*Note about Shawarma: The word, which means turning in Turkish, is an Arabic transliteration and like most middle eastern foods, the spellings are many: Shawerma, Shwarma, Shoarma or Shaorma etc.


Anonymous said...

I've always wanted to see the meat before it goes on the spit. Or before it's browned.

How do they get the meat to stick to the spit? It looks like one big hunk of meat, but I'm guessing it has to be several pieces stuck together? Especially, if it's a combination of different types of meat.

Anyone know...?

Elisa said...

he probably got mad cow from the mystery meat ;-)

kawa said...

In Poland kebeb is the most popular night, 'after-party' snack. It so popular that it became some people's fav meal:) It is mostly served with garlic sauce and tastes great!

marion k said...

It's kind of sacrilège, doubting the kebab ... you can't find those sandwiches easily here. And when I get back home in France, once a year, it's kind of a (delicious) ritual for me to eat one of those - reminds me of my student's years in Lyon and Paris. Mysterious meat, but you don't want to know, you just have to enjoy it.

Katie cat said...

My friends love to go to this place when we're in the area! I recognized it right away... though I've never seen that much lamb...

Brian Dubé said...

I imagine this is one of those foods that can attract a lot of criticism, joking and analysis but in the end is very tasty.

Thérèse said...

To read the description makes the try tempting!

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Daniela said...

Oh - I love Döner!!! It's one of the must-haves when I go back to Germany. Uh, yes - a little mystery indeed... But it is soooo good! Love the tzatziki sauce and the crunchiness with the cabbage... yum...

ryan said...

I love doner kebabs but I haven't had one in years here in Berlin, not since the 'rotten meat scandal.' Apparently much of the doner kebab shops are forced to buy the mystery meat from members of the Turkish mafia. It was revealed that this meat was rotting, moldy slaughterhouse rejects, which unscrupulous middlemen would pick up for pennies and then sold on to unsuspecting kebab shop owners. Since this time, sales of this wonderful fare has fallen off drastically. I am still waiting for someone to open an organic kebab shop. Till then, I'll just dream.

Bob in Jersey said...

To the first poster I saw:
The mass of meat is secured with twine before being impaled upon the spindle. After a minimal period of roasting, before the meat is ready for carving, the twine is cut off. It's just like tying a beef roast before it goes into a roasting pan.

istanbuldailyphoto said...

This is a Turkish döner. It is very delicious. I recommend to everyone.

Jeff Tramiel said...

Bob had it wrong. Actually, the big piece of meat is several differently-sized circles, stacked one on top of the other.