Mary Fawzy, an Egyptian immigrant living in Cape Town, is a food and culture writer and a self-confessed “shawarma snob”. She set out to find the best the city has on offer for Culture Trip, and believes her previous experience as a purveyor of shawarma and falafel made her the best person to do this. She has also been working on perfecting her own recipe for years.
“As an Egyptian, shawarma is a street food that I ate often growing up. I even had my own little shawarma stall in a Cape Town market once upon a time. Shawarma is an Arabic word (with Turkish origins) that refers to the ‘turning’ of the rotisserie. It has lots of different spellings in English: shwarma, shawerma, shawarma, schwarma… I’ve seen it all. This Middle Eastern sandwich/wrap has become a beloved staple in Cape Town takeaway joints and food markets.
“As a self-proclaimed shawarma expert, I set out to try what Cape Town had to offer. For me, the perfect shawarma has to have a good ratio between spiced meat, thin and toasted bread/wrap, a combination of hummus and tahini, saltiness from a pickle and the crisp freshness of a salad.”
Rafael’s Lebanese Café
Cafe, Lebanese, $$$
Rafael’s is a chic café in the heart of Sea Point, about a three-minute walk from the ocean. With a menu full of Lebanese delights, the shawarma is still able to hold its own. It is wrapped in a fresh ‘laffa’, a pocketless, pitta-type bread. The meat is well spiced and there is a generous serving of both hummus and tahini. The salad is fresh and the pickled turnips add a good hit of salt, balancing out the fatty meat. Highlight: The fresh bread. Mary’s verdict: 7/10
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Although Syriana is a restaurant, its shawarma is well known from its permanent food truck fixture at the Old Biscuit Mill’s weekly Neighbourgoods Market. It is the vendor with the longest queues every Saturday. Customers can choose all their fillings according to their individual tastes. The meat is well spiced and the large variety of choice is a crowd-pleaser. Highlight: Well-spiced meat. Mary’s verdict: 7/10
Located at the Gatesville Market, near Athlone, Shawarma King is one-stop takeaway spot for a large variety of comfort foods like burgers, sandwiches, gatsbys (South African sub sandwiches) and samosas. Gatesville Market is known as the Middle Eastern hub in Cape Town and it’s an obvious location for a shawarma spot. The shawarma has the most unique twist that I came across. The pitta is filled with a generous helping of mutton and a barbecue-like sauce, and although it was tasty, I missed the tahini. Highlight: A filling and tasty meal for a bargain. Mary’s verdict: 6/10
This popular shawarma and falafel franchise can be found in Table View and Sea Point. It has a visible vertical rotisserie, (always a good sign) filled with crisp layers of lamb and turkey. You can choose your own filling from an array of salads, pickles and sauces. The laffa is huge with a very generous serving of meat. Highlight: The mix of meats makes for an interesting flavour. Mary’s verdict: 9/10
This humble takeaway shop in Buckingham has welcoming staff and comfortable booths to sit at. The spice on the lamb is the closest I’ve tasted to a shawarma from home, making the name, ‘Cairo Schwarma’ quite fitting. The wrap was well toasted, the salad was crisp and it had plenty of creamy tahini. Highlight: Perfectly balanced. Mary’s verdict: A perfect 10
This Greek restaurant has two branches in Cape Town; in Newlands and in Sea Point. Although the Greek spin on shawarma is slightly different to what I’m used to, it was delicious. The lamb has a slow-cooked ‘pulled’ feel, served with a thick meaty sauce. The pitta bread is freshly made and the addition of tzatziki offers a comforting creaminess. The hummus was the best I’d had in Cape Town. Highlight: The hummus. Mary’s verdict: 8/10