COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Don't tell the folks over at avant-garde eateries Noma and Geranium, but for many visitors to Denmark's capital, the biggest culinary sensation isn't Nordic fusion.
That honor goes to Shawarma Grill House, which for more than 30 years has been dishing out some truly spectacular Middle Eastern comfort food, including an outstanding shawarma sandwich. The city's high-end restaurants may get all the headlines, but millions of Danes and tourists can't be wrong!
Shawarma Grill House lies at the start of Copenhagen's pedestrian-only shopping street, Stroget, nearest Radhus Platz. It has the appearance of a narrow fast-food joint, but ample seating is tucked into the back and upstairs. Usually there's a line of people waiting for a menu that includes standard Middle Eastern offerings, including falafel, kebabs, grilled chicken and kofta (and a hamburger for those with less appreciation for the real deal).
But the main attraction is its shawarma sandwich. Massive spits of marinated meats greet diners as they enter, promising an unforgettable sandwich. Servers slice off pieces of the fragrant meat, a combination of beef and lamb, into a warm round of pita bread. They then quickly top it off with a salad of lettuce and tomato and a dash of a white sauce made from tahini and yogurt. And you are set.
To those who doubt how those simple ingredients can be transformed into a magical experience in your mouth, embrace it. Leave behind all thoughts of the rubbery gyro meat you are familiar with stateside. The crisp lettuce is a delicious contrast to the tender, moist meat, while the fresh, soft pita ties it all together splendidly. If you are brave enough, add some of the red chili sauce, or harissa, metal bowls of which are at every table. Its sweet-sour-hot flavor is the best complement to the sandwich.
For just $6.60 (DKK36) each, one sandwich is filling. Two is even better.
I grew up partly in Denmark and fondly remember going to this restaurant with my family, sometimes a couple of times a week, to feast on a shawarma. It is still the first thing I eat when I land in Copenhagen, and they constitute most of my meals for as long as I am there. My record has been seven sandwiches in a three-day weekend.
Of course, it's possible I am biased. But I was heartened when during my most recent visit to the restaurant I heard one Egyptian customer tell his friend, "I told you it's the best shawarma in the world." The friend nodded in agreement, his mouth too full of a bite of the sandwich to talk.