Just like how I only watch the news on TV which does not help in updating me with pop culture, I am almost the same with food trends, a bit adventurous but I do not really feel the necessity to always catch up with what’s ‘in’. Perhaps it is ingrained because the way we were brought up, if we wanted to eat something, we would cook it at home, even if it was more convenient to just buy it from the corner store.
In any case, I was a bit intrigued with the sign at one of the local food courts the other day. ‘Shawarma rice’ had me conjuring visions of meat wrapped in a pitta bread with rice pilaf on the side. Or given a Filipino twist, would the rice be integrated into the meat and stuffed into the pitta bread? Then it would resemble a Tex-Mex burrito, albeit with a different flavour palate.
It was none of that.
Watching my order being assembled in front of me, I realised I was not going to get the wrap with saffron-infused rice that I had imagined. Rather, it resembled the rice bowls that are common to Filipino and Chinese eateries.
The ‘shawarma rice’ as it is interpreted by that food stall is a bed of white rice, topped with generous portions of roast beef, tomatoes, onions and cucumber slices. To finish it off, it was very liberally doused with garlic sauce.
Later on, I searched online if there are any other versions of Filipino shawarma rice. It seems ‘shawarma rice’ is all over the major cities of the archipelago – there are franchises and small independent kiosks. They vary in presentation, but they have one thing in common. They have done away with pitta bread and the thinly sliced meat tops the bed of rice.
From how I see it, this ‘shawarma rice’ concoction will most probably outlast the original shawarma trend. Long after the next food fad has come and gone, Filipinos will still be eating rice and they will long for something tasty, filling & reasonably priced to go with it. Beef or chicken meat, the flavours and vegetables that go with shawarma are familiar and thus, comfortable to Filipinos.
I do not know how Middle Easterners would see this. But to me, a Filipina who has tried to trace our food pathways, it follows a natural progression. It may have come to us through Middle Eastern migrants or from homecoming OFWs, but shawarma, just like many food items and dishes before it, has come to stay and pretty soon, will evolve into something we will be calling our very own.