The first time I ever saw shawarma was on my trip to Europe with my mom and sisters. I was vegetarian at the time, and the site of a slab of meat on a spit was thoroughly disgusting to me. Fast forward several years and we’re living in Brooklyn. The 10 year vegetarian phase had been abruptly abandoned when I was about 6 months pregnant with S, and suddenly a burger was the only thing I wanted to eat.
About a year after the burger was eaten at TGIFridays, we moved to Brooklyn and I discovered Heaven on Earth: Zaytoons. A tiny Middle Eastern restaurant on Smith Street, this quickly became one of our favorite places to get take out. I started with beef shawarma, which was good. Then I tried their chicken shawarma: even better. But the falafel balls, especially their falafel sandwiches, took the cake. And don’t even get me started on their pita and hummus. I would estimate in the 6 years we lived in Brooklyn, we ate from Zaytoons at least once a month, except for the few months they closed after 9-11.
I didn’t realized they had closed after the World Trade Center came down; I walked over there one evening to pick up dinner and was shocked to see the gate down. A sign posted on the door said “Closed Until Further Notice”. Covering the gate were letters from people who had come before me. The letters were all different, but the message was the same: Come back. We don’t blame you for what happened across the river. We miss you. You are our neighbors and our friends. As I stood outside the restaurant, with little S on my back, I got tears in my eyes. I cried a lot in the days following 9-11. No, I wasn’t crying because I couldn’t get my falafel sandwich; I was touched at the way people were reaching out to each other.
Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. Several months later, Zaytoons reopened. And last weekend, we went down to Brooklyn for a day of fun with our favorite peeps the Palmers. I can’t tell you how good my falafel sandwich tasted; it’s definitely been a big craving since I got pregnant that I finally got to satiate. Travis had ordered a chicken shawarma platter which he ate about 3 bites of, so we took that home with us. There was so much left over on his platter that I ate it for dinner both Sunday and Monday nights! My only regret? I should have ordered more than the 5 pita I got. I could go for one of those with some hummus right now.