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Shawarma is one of the most popular Middle East foods. Its vertical cooking style cooks the meat in its melting fat. Although vertical cooking of meat was introduced by the chefs of Ottoman Empire, it was Iskender Effendi, a Turkish man, who first made shawarma in 1870. It was called kebab. The kebabs were rolled in a flat bread and consumed with tomato, garlic paste/mayonnaise, spices, tahini and pickled vegetables. 

In recent years shawarma has gained great attention and many eateries have shawarma corners in their premises. The food is liked by a large population irrespective of age.

The problem with Indian eateries is that shawarma is assumed to be a northern diet and of north Indians. North-East Indians are employed for making shawarma in all restaurants. Cooking of shawarma requires more technical and scientific knowledge than just skills. 

The processing of shawarma requires a rotating skewer/shwarma grill/spit with a high pressure burner to heat the full length of the arranged meat slices. The preparation requires continuous cooking: exposure to heat.

Next comes the most important part in the shawarma preparation which has critical control points to be followed. First and foremost is the source from where the meat is procured, the quality of the meat, the handling procedure while slicing the meat, marinating the meat and so on. The temperature at which the meat is stored before it is used for piling in the cone has to be monitored and recorded for every batch. Frozen meat should be directly loaded in the skewer and cooked in slow heat for a long time. In case of fresh meat, after slicing, it is marinated and piled immediately, following which the heating process begins.

Secondly, the thickness of meat sliced from the skewer directly impacts the cooking quality of the meat. If the thickness is more, then there are more chances of slicing uncooked meat from the skewer.

When so much risk is involved in the preparation of shawarma, it is a must to appoint trained manpower for the processing/preparation of shawarma

Thirdly, a secondary cooking has to be done to ensure that the meat is cooked fully thereby reducing the chances of consuming uncooked meat, hence reducing chances of contamination. Fourthly, handling the leftover batch is very important. The skewer with the meat has to be frozen immediately and used the next day or should be allowed to cook completely without turning off the burner after which the cooked meat can be frozen. 

The exposure time and the surface exposed will be more which increases the chances of contamination. The meat should be handled in a hygienic way and the environment should also be hygienic. The skewer should be in rotatory motion to ensure circulation of heat and exposure of heat to the whole length of meat on all sides. The egg white, quality of oil used for mayonnaise preparation should also be considered. 

When so much risk is involved in the preparation of shawarma, it is a must to appoint trained manpower for the processing/preparation of shawarma. Food research institutes, catering colleges should conduct training courses in safe handling of meat used for shawarma processing. It is a common practise in India to take summary action against such food handlers with respect to food safety, but prevention is better than cure.

It is very important to educate the citizens on the type of food one should prefer/eat in a tropical country. People in Tamil Nadu should remember our rich culture that applies to our food habits too.

It was heartbreaking to hear our chief minister say that a majority of children under 6 years of age in Tamil Nadu are nutrient deficient. It is this age group that consumes fast food items like French fries, burger, chicken nuggets as well as shawarma. On one hand these foods are costlier and on the other hand these are nutritionally poor. Hence, parents should come forward to design and prepare homemade foods for their children and encourage their kids and their peer group to focus more on nutritionally rich foods.

(M Durga Devi is a food scientist with a PhD in food science and nutrition)


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