The name — Jerusalem Shawarma — catches the eye first. It makes me wonder what the food will be like at Calgary’s newest shawarma cafe. The Middle Eastern city is home to three distinct Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — each of which comes with its own food culture. Add to that the cultural background of Israelis and Palestinians and the mix gets even broader.
“Jerusalem is claimed by everyone,” explains owner Izzo AbuFarha. “So everyone is welcome here.” AbuFarha is Palestinian and many of his recipes come from a restaurant his grandfather ran in his homeland more than 60 years ago. But his chef — Ali Ryan — is Israeli so the food spans the area with enough spit-roasted meats, fresh chopped salads and falafel to satisfy all appetites.
So what makes Jerusalem Shawarma’s menu different from the wealth of shawarma and donair shops around Calgary? Certainly the spinning spits look familiar, stacked with beef and chicken and the ubiquitous donair. Almost all local donair “loaves” come from a couple of shops that purée and process the meat. But at Jerusalem Shawarma they spice and marinate the chunks of beef and chicken for at least 24 hours before stacking them on the spits, allowing the flavours to permeate the meat.
Then they layer the cooked meats onto saj bread that is similar to a pita but larger, thinner and chewier. Saj bread is cooked on a domed saj grill and gives a distinct taste to the shawarma. Pickles, fresh greens and sauces are added, it’s all rolled into a big handful and the dining begins. Order falafel and the deep-fried chickpea balls will be formed and fried on the spot. Ask for hummus and you’ll receive a creamy bowlful with some seasoned chickpeas plopped in the middle. Choose a “plate” and you get a full wrap along with your choice of salad and sauce (tahini, sweet or hot), all for $13 or $14, exceptional value.
There are two Jerusalem Shawarmas, one at 30 Country Hills Landing N.W. (403-277-2666) that’s been open three years and a sparkling new place at 301 16th Ave. N.W. (403-291-0040).
Izzo runs the 16th Avenue location with his brother Alaa while their third brother Diaa handles operations at the north location. Both are an upgrade on the typically simple shawarma-shack tone. The 16th Avenue space is covered in tile with dangling lamps and wraparound windows. A large kitchen — which includes a tandoor oven for roasting kebabs — pumps out hearty servings of fresh, tasty food for in-house and catering. There are four upright rotisserie spits that can slice through 25 to 30 kilograms of roasted meats on any given day.
Forty-five seats handle the crowds and there is a constant hum of activity and warm welcomes. Abu Farha is a graduate of the Carleton University Sprott School of Business and understands that service is as much a requirement for his restaurant as quality food.
So, as AbuFarha says, “Everyone is welcome.”
Located next door to Jerusalem Shawarma is Calgary’s newest ramen bar. A hot trend , ramen noodles are made with wheat flour, salt, water and kansui, an alkaline water. The noodles are added to a fine broth and topped with various ingredients. The broth is the key to the dish.
Umami Noodle Bar, at 305 16th Ave. N.W. (403-454-8383) creates both paitan (milky) and citain (clear) broths; the paitan made from pork bones simmered 14 hours, the citain from chicken bones at a seven-hour simmer. Chef Dean Chan also does a sesame-and chili-spiked tantanmen ramen and a Thai-style tom yum seafood ramen. All the ramen come with sliced pork (chasu) and chopped green onions (negi) and you can add toppings such as shoyu tamago (hard-boiled and soy marinated eggs), corn, butter and more. (The butter and corn are trademarks of Hokkaido-style ramen. which is the style Umami focuses on.
Umami adheres to a simple concept and a limited amount of broth. When they are out of broth, they close. But they do different batches throughout the day so they are always open for lunch and dinner — as long as the broth lasts.
One more 16th Avenue arrival: If you missed the hubbub and the opening day lineups, Carl’s Jr., the unrepentantly mega-calorie American burger chain, has opened its first Calgary outlet at 1140 16 Ave. N.W. directly across from SAIT. (Smart location!) Known for its big burgers and saucy ads, Carl’s will no doubt be a popular pit-stop along the Trans-Canada.
John Gilchrist can be reached at email@example.com or at 403-235-7532 or follow him on Twitter @GilchristJohn