Rome Travel Guide

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Eating Ethnic: Rome's Kebab

We have been coming to Rome regularly for 17 years, and not until our last visit did we eat a Kebab. I had been longing to try the Roman version of this Mediterranean/Middle Eastern fast food, and one night, when the trattorias were closing and it seemed to late for the standard plate of pasta, I succeeded in muscling Dianne into Asterix 2, on via Ostiense. (You shouldn't have difficult finding a Kebab shop in Rome, but if you do, there's a website that lists them all--and even rates the Top 10:

The Kebab resembles the Greek "gyro," the latter so-named because the meat gyrates/turns on a spit as it is cooked.  But the dozens of Kebab shops in Rome are owned not by Greeks but by Egyptians, Turks, and Kurds, and the sliced meat for which the gyro is known--lamb--has been replaced in Rome by veal or, in most cases, a combination of veal and turkey. Kebab Valenziani (via Augusto Valenziani, 14), an Egyptian shop [see photo],
serves three meats from separate spiedi: beef, veal, and chicken. Most shops offer two kinds of bread: an Arab bread often made on site, and the familiar Italian Ciabatta. Condiments vary, and include hot sauce, sesame sauce, yogurt, lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini, olives, onions, green peppers, carciofi and, perhaps in a concession to the Greek tradition, feta cheese.

We ordered ours with "everything" and were aghast at the size of the thing. One serves two, and seated on stools in the cramped shop, we passed the Kebab back and forth about 10 times, along with a Diet Coke. Fresh, great range of flavors, healthy ingredients.
A starving writer could live on one of these a day. Although some will prefer to "portare via" (take out, literally carry away) their Kebabs, we recommend dining in, enjoying the colorful interiors that many of the shops present. The photo is of Asterix 2 (we think).  You'll see it looks nothing like Eataly, which opened in Rome this summer.  Nor does it have the art to go with food that we savor in EUR at Caffe' Palombini, but it has it's own ambiance, one could say.

Sadly, the Kebab is understood as an "ethnic" food and has begun to suffer from the anti-immigrant sentiment currently infecting Italian politics. Berlusconi's center-right national government has been supporting local efforts to ban ethic foods. One such effort is underway in Lucca--the site of 4 Kebab outlets--where the city fathers voted to ban any new ethic food shops, and another has been launched in Milan, with support from the conservative (and anti-immigrant) Northern League.  These are no doubt the same folks who find Europe's largest mosque - in Rome - disturbing.

Minister of Agriculture Luca Zaia, asked if he had ever eaten a Kebab, replied, "No--and I defy anyone to prove the contrary. I prefer the dishes of my native Veneto."

Our advice, Luca, is try one.


1 comment:

Mick P said...

Good post, thanks. Another great place, yet not mentioned in that top ten you link to, is Shawarma Station in Via Merulana, just down from Santa Maria Maggiore. Big servings, lots of interesting side dishes and plenty of room to sit if you wish. Plus, each time we've been there, the majority of the clientele has been north African or near/Middle Eastern - a good sign, surely?