Imagine you’re wandering the bustling streets of Beirut. First you smell it, notes of turmeric, cardamom and cumin mingling with luscious lamb. Mmmm. Then you see it; a familiar image, turned completely on its side. Rotating upright on a vertical rotisserie (wait, you’re allowed to do this?), a succulent slab of juicy meat is thinly shaved by a street vendor. Your senses take over. You. Must. Have. Some.
This is shawarma, one of the world’s preeminent street foods. Tracing its roots back to 19th-century Ottoman Empire, in what is now Turkey, the shawarma technique involves stacking seasoned and marinated meat on a vertical rotisserie or spit and cutting off thin slices from the roasting outer layer. This method bucks the tradition of the horizontal spit, which has been mankind’s go-to preparation of meat since early civilization. Sometimes innovation takes a few thousand years.