STREET CAFE – Dish Pick: Chicken Sawarma

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Egyptian Food… What Does it Taste Like, and Where Can You Find It?

If you have never been to Egypt or large cities, then more than likely, you have never eaten Egyptian food. And who would have thought in Polk County, Florida you would find such a gem of a restaurant that serves this delightful cuisine?

On the southside of Lakeland in a strip plaza on the corner of 540A & South Carter Rd/Scott Lake Rd, you will see on the window, Charlie’s Mini Doughnuts & Coffee (BTW, you have got to try. Awesome donuts!). Inside on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting at 11am, you can taste some of the cuisine of Egypt in this shared space. But, just a word to the wise. Get there early or you may not find a table. Introducing, the Street Cafe, an Egyptian food experience that you will want to tell your friends about because it is THAT good.

Now to the food

One of the dishes Marianne suggested I try was the Chicken Shawarma as it has become a crowd favorite at the restaurant. You can also choose a beef or lamb option. From the photo you can see the chicken entree is pressed in a wrap. Inside the wrap is freshly ground and formed marinated chicken. The chicken is not spicey. It is savory with taste of a little garlic, almost earthy and slightly floral flavor like it has coriander in it. Wrapped with red onion, parsley and a yogurt sauce mixture giving a light, tangy flavor with a hint of mint. This pressed combination is complimented by the fresh bulgar pilaf and cucumber salad that brightens the dish not only with color but a complementary of fresh flavors.

The bulgar pilaf is flavored with tomato and pomegranate. You can see how beautiful the bulgar wheat is with deep rich dark purple and red colors and topped with fresh parsley. Bulgar, like rice, soaks up the flavors when raw soaked or boiled, and this is evident as this side bursts with flavor from the juices of the tomato and pomegranate. You will be able to taste a mild tart flavor from the pomegranate with a bit of sweetness undertone and a slight acidity-sweet from the tomato juices. This is a fresh, non-heavy carb to this healthy dish.

A staple that is served not only in Egyptian cuisine, but in many Middle East countries as well is a cucumber and tomato salad referred to as Salata Balati. Tossed in a fresh lemon vinaigrette, this light salad has a nice acidic bite where you can actually taste the fresh ingredients in it without being over powered by a heavy dressing because there is none.

Marianne adds a dollop of her freshly made yogurt to the plate that is great for dibbing the wrap and I like to add it to the pilaf. Understand, this is not your sweet kind of store brand yogurt that comes in little containers that you might eat for breakfast or a snack. Yogurt is used in Middle Eastern cuisine as a base for dips and sauces (such as tzatziki), as an ingredient in marinades, and as a topping for dishes (such as kebabs).

Final Thoughts

Even though this dish is served all year long, it would be a great summer “go to.” You get the best of both worlds with this meal. The savory flavors from the marinated meat make my mouth water. But like all good meals, the sides complement the main. The bulgar pilar is light and tangy, and is great even served when cold. And the cool, lemony vinaigrette cumber salad with the tomatoes and red onion adds a nice crisp bite to the meal.

Street Cafe
1023e County Road 540A
Lakeland, Florida 33813

Hours: 11:00am – 1:30pm ish

Did You Know?

Chicken Shawarma is a Middle Eastern dish made with marinated chicken that is slowly roasted on a spit and typically served in a wrap with vegetables, sauce and sometimes with rice or fries. It has a savory and slightly spicy flavor, with notes of cumin, paprika, garlic, and yogurt. The combination of spices and marination creates a tender and juicy meat that is complimented by the fresh toppings and sauce.

Egyptian Yogurt, also known as “Lebanese yogurt” or “Labneh,” is a tangy and creamy dairy product made from strained yogurt. Some common spices added to Egyptian yogurt include mint, garlic, cumin, sumac, salt and olive oil. These spices are mixed into the yogurt to enhance its flavor and can be served as a dip or spread. Some recipes also include lemon juice or herbs such as parsley or thyme. The exact spices used may vary based on personal taste or regional variations.

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