Meshwe: The taste of my childhood

Just like every kid who grew up or at least stayed in Saudi Arabia long enough to enjoy their food, I have missed the taste of the food I grew up eating. And ever since our family came to live here, I can say I haven’t had a taste of a real shawarma. I don’t know whose idea it is to put onions and cabbage and wrap it  bread together with beef or chicken, add some white watery sauce and call it shawarma. Obviously not someone who had tasted the real deal.
I stopped looking a long time ago and thought I that the chances of me getting a bite would mean, I’d have to visit to Saudi Arabia again. Not until I saw a post from a friend claiming she found a place selling exactly the same thing we grew eating. If this came from someone else, I would have dismissed it immediately. But since it came from a very reliable source, I just had to try it.

After watching Ironman 3, I convinced Rhoda and dragged my brother to try the place my friend recommended.

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We found Meshwe at Il Mercato. They are open only on Fridays and Saturdays, 5PM – 4AM. As we approach the stall, I can smell the shawarma and got real excited. Initially, I thought the shawarma would be pricey if it is authentic, but their prices were very reasonable and the owner was very accommodating. She asked we were lived in Saudi and where we went to school. I found out that Chef Nathan Mounayer was a schoolmate and was just a year ahead of me. Though, I couldn’t remember him, his face did look familiar.

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We each ordered a shawarma (Pho80) and Rhoda got a shawarma plate (Php140) as pasalubong for her parents. Nathan’s mom and I chatted while our orders were made and even offered to take our picture inside the booth.

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from left to right: Me, Chef Nathan, Yummy Chicken Shawarma, Jei (my brother) and Rhoda

 She also recommended we try the chicken fingers with Arabic fries (php125) claiming it tastes like Al Baik chicken. I got so excited that I think I was jumping with joy. My brother was so young back then that he didn’t have a clue what we were talking about. He cant remember eating anything called Al Baik and was silent the entire time.

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Chicken Fingers and Arabic Fries

Our shawarma was done and we found seats. A few seconds later, our chicken fingers came. We had one chicken finger each and dipped it into the garlic sauce. I was waiting for my brother to react when he tasted the chicken, he gasped and said it tasted like Broast chicken. I laughed and remember that Al Baik chicken was called Broast in Jeddah and Al BAik everywhere else in Saudi. It was nice to know that your taste buds could still remembere a certain kind of flavor you tasted more than a decade ago. I quickly explain to Rhoda what was happening while we enjoyed our chicken and garlic sauce. The fries were a little soggy but the flavor was still there. I’m taking Rhoda’s word that the seasoning and spices used were just right even if you aren’t used to the Middle East cuisine.

Nathan’s mom came over and asked us how the food was. We smiled and thanked her for bringing the food we knew from Saudi here in the Philippines. She was sweet enough to give us a tip, she may have noticed that one chicken finger each wasn’t enough to satisfy us, and told us to buy Jollibee’s Chicken Joy and she’ll sell us the garlic sauce next time we come back.

When she left, we attacked our shawarma… For a moment, I thought my brother and I were back in Jeddah until I heard a voice saying “Ang sarap!” and saw Rhoda. The large chunks of chicken, fries and pickles with the garlic sauce. It was perfect! Rhoda said that the pickles had a lemongrass flavor. I hated pickles and lemongrass, but I love their pickles. Rhoda later learned that they make their own pickles. Wow. Halfway through our shawarma, we were already planning on how to get our hands on the garlic sauce and pickles they were using by applying as OJTs or franchising (I asked and it seems that they are not yet ready for it yet). Haha.

With very full and happy tummies, we came back to the Meshwe to pick up Rhoda’s pasalubong. My brother and I were planning to buy shawarmas for our parents when we remembered that Mother’s Day is just around the corner. We plan to come back with our parents and celebrate Mother’s Day there so they could order whatever they want. Plus one bucket of Jollibee’s Chicken Joy of course. Haha.

I don’t think Rhoda will ever eat another shawarma again (like my brother and I), unless it came from Meshwe.

Dear Meshwe, I could never thank you enough for the wonderful experience of bringing me back to Jeddah in every bite. We will be back soon. Again and again.

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