Perfect kabob = flavorful grilled marinated (or spiced) meat cooked succulent but tender enough to melt in your mouth. The major disappointment for kabob is a dry and chewy kabob. Generally, kabob is served with leavened flat-bread (often known as naan), rice and vegetables/salad.
There are four categories of kabobs;
Shish kabob or souvlaki or satay or sekuwa: marinated chunk of usually cubed boneless meat grilled over open charcoal. Shish kabobs are usually grilled with skewers. Shish kabobs need the highest quality meat because there is no processing of meat before cooking except marination. Since shish kabobs are cooked with just radiant heat, it can be most succulent and juicy kabob if cooked right.
Tandoor kabob or kathi kabob or bhatti Kabob: marinated chunk of (usually with bones) meat grilled in a high heat clay oven known as tandoor. Temperature in tandoor can go as high as 900°F. Tandoor Kabob is generally a bit dry than shish kabobs because both radiant heat (from fire) and convection heat (hot air) is cooking the kabobs. A famous example of tandoor kabob is the tandoori chicken served in virtually any non-vegetarian Indian restaurants.
Chapli kabob or kakori kabob or Kubideh kabob: spiced ground meat usually cooked over charcoal grill. Since it’s made of ground meat, many inferior meats can be served as this kabob. Basically it’s like grilled burger (with more spice). A burger can be McDry burger or a heavenly delight (see best burgers in DC).
Doner kebab (Turkish) or Turkish kabob (Indian subcontinent and Iran) or shawarma (Arabic) or gyro (Greek) : vertical cone shaped kabob that are sliced to order. The traditional way to make doner kabob is to stack marinated slices of lamb meat on a rotating vertical skewer in the shape of an inverted cone topped with fat, tomatoes, and onion flavoring the meat in bottom with its drippings when heated. However, in west doner kebab is often industrially manufactured with ground meat. The traditional doner kabob is cooked in rotating charcoal or wood cooker. It is sort of old fashioned rotisserie meat.
Spices, marination, sauce, side ingredients and type of meat may change but the above four categories encompass essence of all kabobs. For example, in countries with large Muslim population, kabobs are made from lamb and sometimes with beef, in Indian subcontinent it has curry based spices, in Thailand it may be served with peanut sauce, Greeks make gyro from pork, which is taboo meat in Muslim countries, and serve with yogurt sauce.
For me Kabob is street food or at most a fast food such as oldstyle delis. So, I don’t like the idea of kabobs in a fancy restaurant. A kabob joint should be an unassuming place that serves the quality Kabob with possibly flatbread and should not be heavy on your wallet. My search for perfect kabob took me to these places in and around DC.
Moby Dick is a DC based local kabob chain, with notably Georgetown and Dupont location. Kabobs in Moby Dick have Persian (Iranian) influence. One of my favorite kabob is Joojeh Kabob, which is grilled boneless piece of chicken marinated with seasoning such as saffron, black pepper and lemon juice. Another classic favorite is Kubideh kabob. Kubideh kabob generally means kabob made from ground meat such as lamb or beef.
In Moby Dick, it is sirloin. Many of Moby Dick’s entrees are very similar to the Persian national dish, Chelow kabob. Chelow kabob consist of steamed saffron basmati rice (Chelow) and kabob. Traditionally, Chelow kabob is served with grilled tomatoes on the side and butter on top of the steamed rice like the way it’s served in Moby Dick. Moby Dick also provides a classic condiments, ground sumac (Somagh), on their tables. You can sprinkle this reddish looking powder on rice to give somewhat of aromatic tart flavor. If you are adventurous enough, Moby Dick also serves the traditional yogurt drink, Doogh, which are often carbonated and flavored with salt and mint. Moby Dick has two varieties; the homemade and the commercial. The homemade is more flavorful while commercial is more carbonated. It reminds me of salty lassi drink people in northern India drink to cool off during hot summer days. Definitely try, if you are a foodie!
First, a word of caution. I had been to Kabob Palace couple of times few years ago. It is walkable from crystal city metro. So, this time when we went, we accidently went to another sit down type restaurant in same block called Kabob Palace Restaurant. We got table and immediately realized it is not the Kabob Palace that I remembered. The obvious thing to do was shamelessly get up and go to the real Kabob Palace. There are two other Kabob joints right next to the famous Kabob Palace. The other one is Shisha Palace Café, which is more of shisha joint (Hookah). I have eaten there once and the food is okay. Indeed, my recommendation is go to the Kabob Palace, which is setup like a fast food deli; you order, pay, get a number and wait.
The kabobs here have more of Indian subcontinental influence (read; Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India) because spice marination of kabob has more curry flavors. However, it also serves kubideh, which is more of Persian style kabob. They also serves chapli kebab or chappal kabob, a spicy beef patty made in Peshawari style, a northwestern part of Pakistan. Lamb kabobs are served with bones as well as without bones. All the kabobs are served with rice, salad and Indian subcontinental style curried vegetables such as spinach potato (palak aloo), chickpeas etc. Beside kabob, Kabob Palace also serves other dishes such as Karahi chicken. One of the best part of Kabob Palace is that you get a free black masala chai (see previous post on chai) while you wait for your kabobs. Both time I went to Kabob Palace, it was snowing and their hot tea made me feel at home.
Ravi Kabob, Kabob Bazaar and others
Ravi Kabob is another Indian subcontinental kabob joint. You will get regular curry flavored chicken and lamb kabob and also find Lahori style karahi, kofta, Punjabi curry with pakora, aloo mutter. They also serve Haleem, which is sort of like chili type dish (without beans) with pulled meat. Ravi Kabob also serves dessert such as ras malai. However, Ravi Kabob is not metro accessible.
Kabob Bazar is a kabob between courthouse and clarendon metro. It serves Middle Eastern type kabob, i.e., light on curry spices. It also has other Middle Eastern fare such as falafel, hummus, as well as decent selection of vegetarian and fish kabobs.
There are many other wonderful kabob joints around DC area that I have yet to explore. My suggestion is go and try them out. You may find a hidden jewel hiding in your neighborhood.
In search of Doner Kabob
I found virtually all of the restaurants in DC serve industrially manufactured doner kabob, shawarma or gyro with ground meat. Some of DC based blog tipped me to this place called DC Café (P Street- near DuPont circle) that serves homemade gyro kabob. I called and DC Café confirmed that they make homemade chicken gyros meat. When I went there, I didn’t see any inverted vertical rotating grill but somewhat of dinky and dirty establishment. Hoping it must be one of those hole-in-wall jewels; I confirmed the homemade gyro and paid for my dinner. After a while, I realized they just cook a piece meat that is sitting outside on flattop surface like a chicken cheese steak (without cheese). The cook added onions and served with very sour (stale?) yogurt sauce on a stale pita. It was one of the most disheartening meals that I ever had with questionable hygiene. In fact, even I didn’t eat lunch that day, I couldn’t bring me finish my fake kabob and I eat everything. My search for authentic doner kebab, shawarma or gyro is still on. Any suggestions will be appreciated.
Posted in: Travel and Food | Tags: bengali food, bhatti Kabob, Chapli kabob, DC Cafe, Doner kebab, Indian food, kabob bazaar, Kabob Palace, kakori kabob, kathi kabob, Kubideh kabob, Middle eastern food, Moby Dick, Pakistani food, Ravi kabob, satay, sekuwa, shawarma, Shish kabob, souvlaki, Tandoor kabob, Turkish kabob, types of kabob