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August 10, 2017 Comments (0) Views: 293 GFR Challops, Good Food Culture

GFR Challops: The Shawarma Test

Malcolm Jolley gets metaphysical with a chicken wrap.

The chicken shawarma wrap at Shawarma Q on St. Clair Avenue.

Challop (noun) – plural : challops
Pronounced “chah-lop’

1: Abbreviation for challenging opinion. 
2: An irregularly published column on website Good Food Revolution.


Aristotle said the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but I am not so sure. Take, for instance, my daily lunch dilemma. Unless I have a date or a meeting, my mornings from roughly 10 onwards are preoccupied with the question of where to go for lunch. By Aristotle’s creed, I should be a blessed man, since I live in the middle of one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. All manner of gourmet delights, with origins from all points on the globe, can be found in this great metropolis of Toronto for $10, $15 or $20. On GFR Jamie and I even write about the best ones we find, from time to time. But is the whole of the culinary diversity of my city worth more than the sum of its delicious parts? 

It’s no secret that I like Shawarma, and on any given weekday morning my thoughts gustatory are as likely to be focused on this perfect Middle Eastern sandwich than anything else. Again, by Aristotle’s metaphysics, I should be a lucky man, even with the sad demise of La Turque on Church Street, I could travel to Empire Shawarma on Lawrence East, or closer to home to the original La Gazelle in the Annex.   Or I could explore: Google my way to a new discovery somewhere south of Steeles, between the 427 and the Rouge River.

Except I won’t.

I won’t because I do not have the time, nor the inclination to spend an hour battling the traffic to Scarborough, or otherwise traverse the city. This is the rub. At more or less the point that Toronto became one of the more interesting places in which to eat out, it became perfectly unpleasant to transverse. The whole is only greater than its parts if you can actually get to the parts.

Here is an anti-Aristolean theory of of big city living. The theory is that the totality of amenities available in a city are less important than there over all distribution. In other words, I want to be able to have an array of decent, cheap and interesting lunch options surrounding me wherever I live and work. This is now, I think, pretty much the case in what I would call “downtown” Toronto, which I would define roughly as everything south of Bloor, east of Roncesvalles and west of Pape. But it’s spreading beyond that core, and one of the chief agents of this spread is the humble shawarma (or falafel) shop.

The shawarma is a food that lies outside of the middle class North American comfort zone. The things that make it delicious are exotic and bold, like garlic sauce, harissa, pickled turnips (turned pink beets). The sustained presence of one, especially in a neighbourhood without a visible Middle Eastern community presence, denotes a certain sophistication in the people who live or work around it and, presumably, make-up its customer base. So maybe Aristotle wasn’t so wrong after all, in so far that proliferation of shawarma shops across Toronto in the last decade or so is a good thing as a whole, though I maintain it only really counts if they’re distributed evenly enough so that most, if not all, Torontonians are able to enjoy a chicken wrap on a whim on any given lunchtime. That is the shawarma test.

In many ways the intersection of Yonge and St. Clair retains the look and feel of old WASPy Toronto, with it’s not very tall office and government buildings and vestiges of the old order like the Badminton and Racquet Club. But it turns out that the white collar workers of Yonge and St. Clair have cosmopolitan tastes, and there are quick serve restaurants there that serve the food, or a Canadianized version of it from countries as diverse as Turkey, Vietnam, Korea, Italy, Hungary, Japan and so on. In that mix, in a small storefront nestled into a low-slung 1970s office building is the Middle Eastern (I think Syrian) restaurant called Shawarma Q.

The arrival of Shawarma Q, a few years ago, was a big deal for me because of the reasons I have outlined above. After nearly a decade of longing wistfully for shawarma lunches (to the point of sometimes making up errands to run that would take me to the Annex or beyond), my neighbourhood finally got a shawarma shop and thusly had gained prestige. Pleasure turned into delight when I tasted the product. What sets this independent above most is the marinade they use on the skewered chicken. I have no idea what it is exactly. It turns the meat read, and there is definitely a bit of heat, some cumin and maybe cinnamon involved, but isolating flavour notes on the symphony of flavours that constitutes the Shawarma Q wrap if futile, and no fun. It a fully loaded pleasure with hummus, garlic sauce, homemade hotsauce, lettuce, onions, tomato, parsley, fresh cucumbers, pickled cucumber and turnips and (uniquely by my experience) kidney bean salad. All for about $6. It’s as good, if not better, than any I’ve had. And, best of all, it’s around the corner and passed the test.

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