Thank goodness for Joey, because I know nothing about anything shawarma. Though the Levantine ritual of packing meat in a wrap and selling it in as many competing hasheries in Waterloo as possible has existed for as long as any Canadian Chinese food place has, I’ve never taken the time to go in, order, and see what the buzz is all about, largely in part because I could never come to terms with the price for something so simple. That said, the only perspective afforded me in regards to the shawarma, the falafel, or the gyro, all came in retrospect to what the shacks in the University of Waterloo’s campus court plaza’s bodega of culinary delight has to offer. Joey too has his own understanding. His understanding being that Australia has the best gyros, shawarmas, ‘whatevers,’ he has ever eaten. And who am I to deny it? I know nothing of the sort.
Highland Halal Shawarma had us both hankering curiously for whatever it was that drew people into its small corner. Aside from our usual sniggering at anything food and anything attention grabbing, we figured the traffic must have been some indication that Highland Halal Shawarma was doing something right.
Its menu’s small, its food inexpensive. No meal will run you over 10 dollars. And if you deny yourself the option of a combo and stick to the puritan disposition of its wraps, you’ll have a bite that’s even cheaper, but just as satisfying. Before I took a bite this was my favourite thing about Halal Shawarma; before its tiny space, before its two stool bar on-looking a parking lot crossed out by iron, before its mirrored walls that make an infinitely small space look on, humorously, into infinity. But I’m not complaining; I liked it. I liked the white noise, the bright lights. It was a space that stirred in me all the fantasy of food joints in big cities. When I went in, I could pretend that when I went out something big and urban was waiting, steam rising from sewers, people smashing elbows- not sprawl and neglected suburbs, not strip malls. Just me, Joey, and whatever shawarma was. Whatever cheap shawarma was.
Joey was first up; he knew what he wanted. All the fixings on the side, cautioning me that he fills his own pita because some people really load up his wraps; that, for whatever reason, doesn’t sit right with him. I was indifferent. And, of course, lacking any perspective I ordered a falafel wrap (5.30) and a shawarma wrap (6.64), as well as the novel, yet not for faint-of-heart, Ayran than-koto yogurt drink, making sure Joey got one too.
Lobbed in front of me and cuddled in a paper bag were two separate wraps, each in two even smaller paper bags. In each, warm pitas cocooned snuggly around respective fillings of fried chickpea patties and chicken- shaved from a conical spit. Any other fixings were up to the eater; they could include brightly pickled turnips, radishes, pickles, and the lesser more mundane everyday vegetables.
My resilient, chewy pita counterpoised the chaotic stuffing of crispy chickpea falafels, slippery pickles, and spicy lip puckering hot sauce. It was a fun thing to chew, and a great way to manage fillings that have a potential for making a big mess, especially when a falafel as perfectly crisp as mine gave way to a soft sumptuous cumin centre. My tender shawarma was no different. Its tender meat, a savoury hot roast against cooling pickles pulled up again by a humming hot sauce was a great first experience. Our tart yogurt drinks too. We both wondered if they tasted as sour as each other’s. They did. We laughed. We loved it. Sour and savoury quenched with even more sour and savoury. Staring out into the parking lot, it was a good way to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon.
HIGHLAND HALAL SHAWARMA
200 Highland Rd. W.
Kitchener, ON N2M 3C2
Tue-Sun 11 am - 9 pm