Iqbal Shawarma: The Original Shawarma, 10 Years On
Pakistan has an endless variety of street food to choose from and, during the hustle bustle of everyday routine, the majority of the population looks for quick, inexpensive meals on the go. From cooling off with a gola-ganda in the hot afternoon, to a quick stop at the daal chawal thela between meetings, there’s a quick and easy solution to all types of cravings. Of all the Pakistani fast food options in town, my personal favorite has to be Iqbal Shawarma; The Shawarma Maestro.
Located behind the well-known Best Buy Store in Cavalry Ground, Iqbal Shawarma started out as a small stall 10 years ago. It still stands in the same corner and despite having no seating and only offering food for takeaway or as car service, Iqbal’s warm attitude has his delicious food sold out in the span of two hours. There are only two things on his menu: The Original Turkish Shawarma and The Kaplama Chicken Rice. His food pays homage to authentic Turkish flavors.
The shawarma is filled with rotisserie chicken, home-made pickles, lettuce, and topped off with garlic and black pepper sauce. The pita is toasted on the outside and soft on the inside. The taste is clean and simple, with a fine balance between the aromatics and the heat. Over the years the shawarma has tasted exactly the same, packing in a dose of nostalgia. Each bite is a mouthful of shawarma perfection.
This dish combines flavors that complement each other in perfect harmony. The rice-based dish is humble yet comforting. The signature Iqbal Shawarma rotisserie chicken is combined with boiled rice, brown vermicelli, and the thick peppery/garlicky gravy. Vinegar soaked pickles are taken out of the jar and added to the table top grill where everything else is mixed in and incorporated into one cohesive concoction. I usually take this order to-go. Also, as a bonus, when you do take-away you get extra garlic sauce to add to the Kaplama. Score!
I enjoy my Kaplama piping hot, there’s no better way to devour it. Each grain of rice is coated perfectly in the garlic sauce; the pickles are cut and distributed equally so you get a tangy surprise in almost every bite. You’d think the chicken would be tough or over-cooked. Nope. It’s perfectly succulent and charred, giving off a smokey flavor. I personally don’t get the point of strings of vermicelli, because they don’t really add much to the whole meal.
Living in a food-centric city like Lahore most restaurants give in to the local tastes and compromise on authenticity. What I love about Iqbal Shawarma is that the vendor has stuck to two dishes all these years, giving his customers consistent, amazing quality (and quantity). I could not recommend the Kaplama enough. The dish is ready in minutes with basic and effortless flavors. The fact that it’s the cheapest meal in Lahore Cantt keeps me coming back for more.