8308 144 Ave NW
I have mentioned a couple of times that, in some parts of Vancouver, you can see a lot of shawarma/donair/falafel shops popping up every couple of blocks. Is this madness? Well, if there is demand, places like these will keep on popping out. So, when I was in Edmonton, my reaction was a bit of mixed when I kept seeing them as well! However, a bit of digging, I noticed something different so that gave me enough reason to try one of them as well. After shuffling between a couple of places (hey, after all, I only have that much stomach space!), the list of places narrowed down to two: High Voltage Food Coffee & Bar and Swiss Donair. Yes, you can guess which one I ended up.
I will put this one out before anybody jumps in. Notice that I mentioned shawarma/donair (I will leave falafel out for other reasons), as if they were the same entity. In fact, I should have also added gyro, as well; not to mention tacos al pastor! Truth is that they could be used interchangeably depending on the context so I will leave it in the sense of meat in a vertical rotating spit, sliced when ordered, then placed in bread (in the form of pita bread) and topped with some condiments. With the caveat that, depending on the combination of meats, it could deviate into specific ones. For example, in Vancouver, more often than not, you will see shawarma made out of chicken. In Panama, gyro made out of “mystery meat” was the norm. (Yes, gyro is Greek; however, I ate my big share of gyro back in my younger years!). In the case of Swiss Donair, it was made of some ground meat (in their menu, beef). Because of this, a direct 1:1 comparison to Vancouver can’t be made… Or can it? Keep on reading!
Due to some mix up in transit schedule and delays, I cancelled one of the places I was supposed to go. Oddly, that resulted in me arriving quite early. As in 11:00 a.m., around the time they were opening. Of course, that creates an odd situation: would the meat be piping hot? I saw the meat rotating weren’t extremely big so, needless to say, they weren’t fresh – chances are carry over from the previous day. But, provided it is carefully packaged/prepared, it might not be necessarily an issue. Now, one thing I did notice: While they cut the meat from the spit, they reheat them on a griddle. Of course, this could be a one time instance due to timing rather than the norm, again, considering the time of the day.
Now, here is the one detail: What to order? I would have wanted to do a head to head comparison by ordering the chicken version but that was not to be, as I didn’t see it in the spit. However, given that I have had the beef version at Donair Dude in Vancouver, a comparison of sorts could be made. Of course, it might still not be a 1:1 comparison. Instead, it would be something on its own. And this is the one I ended up ordering.
I know, in the picture above I am sure you would have asked yourself: Are those fries? You never see them here in Vancouver! Well, just because you see them or not see them here, does not mean it can be served differently somewhere else! In this case, they would serve it as a combo with fries. One thing I noticed right away is that it had some light seasoning. From that perspective, it was a nice touch to the otherwise regular fries. Now, as for the fries itself, could it be a frozen one? Not sure but, given that I am used to eating it without them, chances are this is a one of. Not bad but not something I would order again. (If going in a group, may be one person order it but that’s about it!)
As for the donair itself, I ordered the beef “super”. While there was no description as to what makes it “super”, I would assume it is the amount of meat in it. Truth is, this one was big! (Aside from this and the regular, other options include cheese, mushroom and jumbo). When ordered, I was asked if I wanted the sweet, dill or garlic sauce. I went for the sweet sauce. Now, here is the odd note: If you have ever heard of Halifax style donair, that sweet sauce is what makes it “Halifax style”. Alas, that might not have been the best of the options. I mean, it wasn’t bad, just that it ended up being a mix of savoury and sweet, something that does not always work for me. I guess I should have gone for either the dill or garlic one… But, hey, if you like this combination, by all means!
As for the meat (OK, beef, as per their menu), you don’t necessarily taste it as beef. Instead, you taste the spices added. And, you know what? I didn’t really mind it wasn’t necessarily beef tasting, as it served as a part of a whole. In perspective, I don’t think I should have ordered the Super as it was a bit too much beef, borderline to the point of meat overload (I can’t believe I am saying this!). If this was so much, I don’t want to know how much meat would be in the Jumbo version! The vegetables did what it was supposed to do but they limited themselves to the basic lettuce, tomato and onion. Would I have preferred some other extras? For example, tabouleh or pickles or what not? While it would have been nice additions, actually, as is it was good enough.
In the end, would I go for this, a gyro (in Panama) or a shawarma (in Vancouver)? Truth is, each one is a beast of its own with endless combinations and permutations. And, in regards to Donair Dude, due to local preferences, such a long distance comparison might be unfair to either one of them. I would have liked to try some of the other similar places on this trip but, alas, only that many eating chances. But, would I come back? At this point, difficult to assess; until then, I will just leave it as a question mark.