Monday, 12 September 2011

Taste of Arabia, Wakefield

An unexpected treat for lunch on Saturday, and the discovery of another food based social enterprise.

After the thrill of Wilkinson's I thought I'd grab some lunch in town before heading home for an even more thrilling afternoon of DIY. There was a bowl of stew with my name on it at the Country Kitchen Bakery, but when I arrived a lengthy queue was forming and I couldn't be bothered waiting. Casting my eyes around the food hall I noticed Taste of Arabia next door, which enticed me in mainly because it was completely deserted.

One plate of shawarma in pitta with chips and salad for £3.99 later I was rather glad I'd been so easily swayed. It doesn't look all that great, but everything was spot on. Spicy shreds of slightly chewy but very tasty lamb, heavily spiced with salt, chilli and possibly sumac, stuffed into a perfectly toasted pitta and doused in yoghurt and chilli sauce (out of cheap catering pack bottles but what do you expect for 4 quid). Everything in the carefully arranged salad was very fresh and provided cooling contrast to the spicy meat. Even the chips were good. They were the budget freezer pack variety served by crappy chain pubs the nation over, but actually fried properly (they're nearly always underdone in pubs for some reason) they went down a treat.

I have no idea what the particular aims of this social enterprise are, but they do have the tagline 'bringing distant cultures closer'. In the half hour or so I was there they didn't have a single other customer, so it was more 'distant culture being completely ignored by the local culture'. The nice Turkish man doing the cooking said they were there permanently, so please do pay them a visit before someone pulls the plug. What better way to bring distant cultures closer than by selling good kebabs in Wakefield market?


Taste of Arabia
Wakefield Market Food Hall
Union Street


Anonymous said...

I know you've marked this at its price point, but really? Is there any reason not to think that as well as the bread, dips and chips being out of a packet, the same goes for the lamb and the salad? Leaving aside the social enterprise aspect, how is this any different from McDonalds or KFC?

Dave said...

Hi Lester, it was different from McDonalds or KFC for the following reasons:

The lamb was good quality, and very well spiced. It was exactly as good shawarma should be; small-ish shreds as if sliced from a spit, but not processed like cheap doner meat. Far better than any meat on offer at McDonalds or KFC. The salad was varied and freshly made (as in prepped while I was waiting), which you don't get at McDonalds or KFC, and the pitta was probably from a packet but warmed/lightly toasted properly, which you don't get at McDonalds or KFC where the bread is consistently terrible, toasted or otherwise.

Anonymous said...

You're not convincing me, Dave. :o)

Call me a cynic, but everything (including the lamb) probably comes from Costco, and I tend not to get too excited at the ability to toast bread or chop a tomato. Maybe the owners will swing by and defend their honour. Nothing would please me more. Really.

I suppose the context of my grumble is that this is street food and street food needn't - shouldn't! - all come out of a packet. Everything on that plate could be homemade and would be all the better for being so. There's no good reason why I should have to go to Algiers, Istanbul or Marrakesh to have that meal done properly at an affordable price.

Of course, I realize I'm living in Cloud Cuckoo Land. It's lovely here. ;o)

Dave said...

Depends whether you mean the lamb was some sort of Costco bulk pack of pre-seasoned kebab meat, or whether they just bought plain old raw lamb from Costco. I'm convinced it wasn't the former, and if it was the latter so what. I wouldn't be expecting a place like this to source their fresh meat from a top-notch butcher.

I agree with you in theory that everything should be home made, but as you say that's cloud cuckoo land. In the real world I'd rather they at least focus on cooking what they've got properly, which was the case here.

Much as I'd prefer home made chips, I'd actually rather have frozen ones fried properly than hand cut ones cocked up (which loads of places also manage by insisting on serving 'chunky chips' then churning them out too fast so they're still hard in the middle).

I also agree that the standard of street food is still generally higher in most other countries, but they tend to have a street food culture that we don't. ..and Turkey for one is certainly not immune to the frozen chip!

Anonymous said...

I do mean Costco bulk pack, meat from their butchers would be fine; I'm not suggesting they have a jolly to Lishman's every day. Frying a chip properly should not be beyond the wit of all but the dimmest of cooks, and Cloud Cuckoo Land is more a reflection of how likely the realization of my utopian dream will be rather than a measure of how difficult it actually is.

I think the reason that, broadly speaking, we lack a decent street food culture is because mediocrity is all to readily accepted. Come on Dave... let's take to the streets and demand a revolution!! I'll get the t-shirts printed. ;o)

Dave said...

I think accepting mediocrity is a problem in our food culture across the board, rather than something specific to street food. Lacking a street food culture is probably more to do with how we eat in this country, i.e. usually at home with occasional meals out and maybe a visit to a sandwich shop at lunchtime. There's also a lack of street food infrastructure as outside markets councils probably wouldn't have licensed stalls all over the place.

Contrast with somewhere like Thailand, where everyone eats out routinely from stalls in the streets, and there are whole streets full of them.

Having said that I think it's starting to change a bit, particularly in London. Also one or two things springing up in Leeds, give Fish& a try. Good quality fish and chips, cooked properly and made from scratch. Best way to encourage the revolution - support the trailblazers!

Anonymous said...

I've tried Fish& on three separate occasions and each time failed to understand the fuss, finding their offerings a little bland. Maybe it's just me. I'm not deliberately trying to be contrarian, honest!

It applies to most every town, but Leeds centre in particular is quite poor for speedy, inexpensive, well executed food from vendors who aspire to more than a sandwich or cracking open the freezer and cobbling together any old shite. The last thing that floated my boat were the savoury offerings at the Sunshine Bakery pop-up in the market but that's been knocked on the head, seemingly.

Let's hope you're right and the tide's a turning.

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