This way to Middle Eastern

Published January 28, 2021, 10:41 AM

by Sandy Daza

Where the shawarma does not look more like lumpia than a sandwich and where you will, like I did, walk out happy.

When I moved to Paris as a student in the ’70s, I was culture-shocked, having come from an almost sheltered life in Manila. I knew nothing about France, except the food that I ate at our French restaurant back home. I got a lot of advice from my friends who also had never left the country. One said, “Pare, if you walk the streets of Paris and you have dark hair, the women will pull you from the streets.” I walked the streets of Paris for three years and couldn’t wait to come home and call him a liar! 

A lot of awakening happened abroad for me. The American College in Paris is where I took courses at Ecole Cordon Bleu cooking school and that lit my interest in the culinary world. My art classes, which didn’t really interest me then, became very interesting when we would hold some classes at the Louvre and study the original works of the masters while the professor pointed out changes in the style of their works. 

ON FIRE Blazing kebab feast

One trip I took was when the school offered to take us to London, also a first for me. I walked the streets of London alone and would just browse at anything I passed. One of the things that caught my eye was a restaurant that had a huge slab of roasting meat by the window while a chef with a huge long knife and plate took thin slices off the surface with a downward motion, brought them to a chopping board, and assembled away. He picked up a round flatbread, made an opening on the side much like a pocket, stuffed the inside with freshly sliced onions and tomatoes, chopped lettuce, that shaved smoking meat, drizzled a white sauce and a red sauce, rolled it, and wrapped it and handed it to a waiting customer. This was where I first saw a gyro sandwich. It was winter and it was cold. I walked in, ordered what everyone on the line was waiting for, and with it in one hand and a Coke in the other hopped happily out of that Greek restaurant. I put the can of Coke on my coat’s side pocket, tore up the paper around my gyro, and took my first bite. A burst of meaty flavors of herbs and spices filled my mouth. That started my love affair with the gyro, shawarma, pita, pocket sandwich, or whatever we call it today. I also fell in love with Middle Eastern cuisine. 

Everywhere I went, whether on the streets of Paris or New York, if a saw anything similar, I had to buy. And I was never disappointed. I knew where to find the best sandwiches. Paris was at the St. Michel area at Maison de Gyro and, in New York, on the corner of West 49th Street and Broadway. 

MEAT CONE Shawarma

Back here, we have a few shawarmas that are good but far from what I experienced then. Fillings are oh-so-little. It looks more like a lumpia than a sandwich. The bread is different, filling lacks authenticity in taste. 

As I browsed the menu, just from the pictures alone, I knew I had discovered a new dining place. We started with a mezze platter, with various spreads like hummus, tzatziki, ezme, eggplant salad, ganoush, and vegetable meatballs.

Then one day, my cousin, Dr. Joey, invited me to a new place along Annapolis Street in Greenhills, Feta. I had never even noticed the place before but the first thing that caught my eye was the owners. They looked Middle Eastern. Authentic was the word that came to mind.

SO MASARAP Shawarma Wrap

As I browsed the menu, just from the pictures alone, I knew I had discovered a new dining place. We started with a mezze platter, with various spreads like hummus, tzatziki, ezme, eggplant salad, ganoush, and vegetable meatballs. With that, we were served authentic freshly baked balloon bread. This was promising, I thought to myself. We had a blazing kebab feast. This was a huge platter made with oven-cooked meat, grilled lamb chops, lamb ribs, chicken souvlaki, lamb souvlaki, chicken wings, and basmati-flavored rice. There was even a ritual in serving it. Sarap


I have been back a few times since and each time I walked out happy. I’ve had the gyro roll with its delicious flatbread and filling and side sauces, a grilled long ground beef kebab with flavored white rice, grilled tomatoes, and a long green chili and also a boneless chicken version of this. All so very good. I plan to go back for the lamb shanks and many other items on that menu.

DOWN ON THE Ground Beef Kebab

I’ve been able to somehow relive that special day in London in a place called Feta. Check them out! Happy eating!

Feta Mediterranean is on the ground floor of Intra West Building, Annapolis Street, San Juan Metro Manila.