This is my latest column for Jewish News:
You always remember your first time. It was my Dad who introduced me to the joy of shawarma. I was a teenager when he took me to a west London take-away and bought me my first one. We stood guzzling them on a street corner, trying to not spill all the contents over the pavement. The lamb was juicy, the salad crisp and the chilli sauce vehement. I knew right then my life would never be the same again. We returned throughout that summer, sometimes twice in one evening.
I have since become obsessed with shawarma and have eaten them in locations as diverse as Jerusalem, Manhattan, Slough, Paros, Amsterdam, and Golders Green. It is in good old Golders that my most serious shawarma action has occurred. Oh those heady summer evenings sitting out the front of Solly’s with friends. This was my promised land, or so I thought. Then White House Express opened up the road….
At first I sneered at this new tahina-temptress and snorted at the very thought of me ever playing away from my beloved Solly’s. Then I began to hear glowing reviews of the new place and was eventually persuaded to try it. I arrived full of scepticism, more or less pushed through the door by my good friend Jonathan. But then they had me at the first mouthful. Now when friends ask me when I last ate in Solly’s I reply: “When I last ate where?” It’s a cruel world.
Speaking of that neighbourhood, if you saw two forlorn-looking fellows on Golders Green Road just after Pesach ended this year that was Jonathan and me. We had stupidly convinced ourselves that at least one of White House Express or Solly’s would throw open their doors the moment the festival ended. We ignored all the evidence to the contrary including the vocal derision of our loved ones and the unanswered phone-calls at both establishments. Of course neither place opened that night and we ended up having to settle for a curry. We told each other: “This is just as good as shawarma” but we knew we lying. When a shawarma is what you want nothing else will do.
I remember back in my teenage years my father amply demonstrated this one evening when he and my mother arrived home late from a drinks party across the road. My Dad was passionately craving a shawarma but was unable to drive to the aforementioned take-away as he’d supped a few too many Martinis. He sat with his head in his hands begging my mother to drive him there. Only when it looked like he might start crying did my mother relent. As I saw how seriously he took it I thought: “That’s the sort of man I want to grow up to be”.
And I think I have – I’ll do anything for a shawarma. I sometimes visit a Lebanese outlet near me and once had a tricky moment while paying. “My friend, would you like to donate your change to Viva Palestina?” asked the owner, and the entire venue fell silent in anticipation of my response. “I’ll sleep on it,” was the best I could muster. I now make sure I have the correct change.
During my most recent visit to Israel I managed to eat shawarma for all but one of my main meals during my stay. How my Israeli friends laughed as I came over all English, politely asking for a simple combination of fillings, while they gave detailed, demanding instructions for theirs. Oh man the shawarma was nice, though. My four-day feast of it brought with it predictable calorific and meteorological consequences but it was worth both. Naturally, one of the first things I did when I got back was text Jonathan and ask: “When can we meet in Golders Green?”
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