Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Kebap and Shwarma in Seoul

This was published in Groove Magazine this month. You can read it online with pictures here.


I happened to run into Rami Mohammed from Yemen at an Arab restaurant. As we discussed Kebap’s (or Kebab’s) popularity in Seoul, he got a bit worked up. He didn’t consider the chicken or lamb dish cooked on a rotating spit and wrapped in tortilla with pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, and a sauce as kebap. He called this dish Shwarma. Rami and I discussed this while eating at an Arab restaurant. He said while both cook the meat while rotating on a spit, Kebap is usually made with ground meat while Shwarma is made with whole meats such as chicken. Also, his Kebap -which he called Donair Kebap- is not supposed to be served on a thin tortilla, but something with a little more body- bread he called Ekmekarasi.

So I asked him if he enjoyed eating Kebap/ Shwarma in Korea and he said he couldn’t eat most of them because they were not truly Halal. While, I respect his religious scruples, this did not stop me on my search to find the best Shwarma / Kebap in the Itaewon area. There has been a boom in Kebap in the last couple of months. On Friday and Saturday Nights, you’ll see restaurant after restaurant and truck after truck on the street selling these spit-seared delights.
On my search for the best Shwarma / Kebap, I decided to stay away from the street trucks. Although, I’ve had decent ones from a truck before, I feel the trucks charge the same price as the brick and mortar establishments and their roving nature makes them difficult to track down. My criterion for rating these was: bread, toppings, quality of meat, service, price, and overall experience.

7. Café Alexandria- The yogurt sauce was too watery, the meat dry, and the onions and lettuce overpowered the taste. But, they do make their own pita, which is a plus. It’s 5,000 won for a sub par kebap when most others go for 4. If you are in the HBC late at night, this is the place to go for a tall beer and a snack. 02.798.4646. In Haebangchon across from Indigo.

6. Foreign Restaurant- This restaurant serves up Adana Kebap, which is a grilled and seasoned, minced meat skewer. The meat was good, but it was overpowered by the onions and mystery sauces. Plus it was wrapped in soggy tortilla (they could have at least toasted it). Overall, it was a very messy, drippy meal. I would recommend their kebap platters and their salted yogurt drinks. 5,000 won. Foreign Restaurant. 02.794.9292 www.foreignrestaurant.com Make a right at the Dunkin Donuts, it’s up the street and to the left.

5. Mr. Kebab- The newest addition to Itaewon-gil. Not bad for a freshman effort. The sauces had good flavor, the usual suspects of toppings were there- lettuce, tomato, onion, and cucumber. The bread was homemade and toasted as well. It’s your run-of-the -mill kebap. They are open late at night and they have Turkish icecream: Dondurma for dessert. 4,000 won. 010.7758.1997 www.mrkebab.co.kr It’s next to the Dunkin Donuts, which is adjacent to the Fire Station.

4. Anakara Picnic- Right by Subway Exit 1. This place is always hopping with people. The fast turnover keeps the ingredients fresh and the meat juicy. The sauces bring out the flavor of the meat and the wrapping make this a great walking treat. I really enjoyed the tangy yogurt sauce, the pickle zip, and the juicy roasted lamb. 4,000 won.

3. Istanbul- This kebap place has been a mainstay for years and for good reason. They don’t skimp on meat or toppings at this little kebap joint. It has a friendly local bar feel to it and you’ll often see locals enjoying their kebap with a beer. The kebap has been modified a bit and the addition of thinly sliced white cabbage adds a pleasant crunch. If you prefer spice, a couple drops of Tabasco kicks the dish up a notch. Istanbul has the best beef/lamb of the bunch and the yogurt sauce cools down the spice of the charred lamb and beef. They give you the option of having your kebap on tortilla, but I recommend the hearty ekmekarasi bread. 4,000 won. 02.796.0271. It’s in Gyeongnidan, so go out Noksopyeong Exit 2 and walk straight. Get to the other side of the street by going down and out the underground walkway.

2. Sultan Kebap- This is one of the original Turkish Kebap places in Itaewon and they’ve made a consistent, quality product for years. The owner Omer Yilmaz is a robust bomb of energy and his kebap’s are a sizable feast. He uses fresh ingredients, the meats are moist, and his toasty bread has nice body. I recommend adding a little lemon juice to the kebap; it adds a sharp accent to this delicious snack. 4,000 won. 02.749.3890. Loop around Itaewon Subway Exit 4, make a left at the Coffee Bean and then take the next left.

1. Petra Shwarma Palace- This place is the best. Why? For one, the homemade bread is a feathery pillow for the delicious fillings. The guys there artistically assemble each shwarma. They swab a little green sauce on the right side of the bread, then a little tahini in the middle, and a little cucumber yogurt sauce on the right. Then they pile the crisp, yet moist chicken on top with paper-thin slivers of lettuce, pickle, onion, and tomato and then wrap cloth the whole thing in wax paper. It’s almost too beautiful to eat. Now I did say almost. The first one was so delicious; I had to have a second just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. 4,000 won. 010.2660.6117 Go out Itaewon Exit #2 and walk straight. It is across the from Itaewon fire station, next to Silom.