I grew up on stories from the 1001 Arabia Nights – Aladdin, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. I had a very romanticized vision of the Middle East in my mind and I imagined that I would be mingling in crowded souqs full of color from rich textiles, exotic spices, camel caravans, dust kicking up from the ground – you get the picture. So imagine my surprise and dismay the first time I landed in a Middle Eastern country – glittering western-style malls, American chain restaurants and stores, and fast food restaurants galore. Lots of them.
But if you’re going to have fast food in Riyadh, nothing beats shawarma from Mama Noura. This is not your typical North American over-stuffed, thick-as-a thermos shawarma/donair wrap that’s soggy with lettuce and tomatoes. These shawarmas are only about 5 cm in circumference and contain chicken (or lamb) freshly shaved off the meat stack, garlic mayonnaise, hot sauce, a french fry, and maybe a bright pink pickle (not sure what it is, maybe a radish?) wrapped in a warm, soft pita. And, they’re only 4 riyals each (about $1). Mama Noura is actually a Turkish restaurant (not Saudi) but it doesn’t matter – you haven’t had real shawarma until you tried this.