I have two vivid memories dating back to a trip my family took to Saudi Arabia when I was 12, both revolving around food. The first recalls a drippy, tender shawarma with steak, hummus, bright-pink pickled turnips, tomatoes and parsley in a warm pita. The other is the vegetal, unrefined chewing gum made from the sap of the acacia tree.
The best place I've found in town to relive these sensory experiences so burned into my psyche is Middle East Market near Sand Lake Road. The OBT spot is equal parts specialty grocery store (find all the Mediterranean gum, candy, hookah tobacco and canned goods you might need), deli (all sorts of ready-prepared foods to take away) and lunch counter (fresh hot shawarma and gyros sliced to order).
Their version of shawarma ($6.99) is strikingly similar to the one I first had in the Persian Gulf years ago. You can couple your sandwich with sides like kibbi ($1.99), a fried dumpling filled with bulgur, pine nuts and ground beef; okra stewed with sweet tomatoes; or a lemony and refreshing tomato-and-cucumber salad garlicky enough to ward away the undead. Finish off the meal with a date mamoul, a crumbly cookie filled with the sweet paste of dry dates ($1.49), somewhere between a French butter cookie and a Fig Newton.
The place is run by a gaggle of smiling, gregarious women, who all know their lunch regulars by their first names and laugh loudly and appreciatively, making the place sound less like a restaurant and more like your Lebanese grandma's kitchen – if you're lucky enough to have one.
8100 S. Orange
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