Allawi Brothers Shawarma
We all remember moments of growing up with our siblings and experiencing some form of cooking and eating together. My brother Yasser and I are close and our memories of our childhood and teenage years are filled with such memories. As growing boys, my mother and our grandmothers thought we were always hungry!
Yasser and I were both born in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq. We grew up there until we left during the war complications in 2003-2004 so we experienced both good years and war before my parents, Yasser and I sought refuge in Jordan. I was 8 and Yasser was 12.
Yasser and I were each other’s only sibling but growing up in Baghdad, it felt like we were more because we lived in a big compound with our uncles, aunties, cousins and grandparents and naturally our mothers and grandmothers shared the cooking. Our mother often asked for our help in the kitchen which is how both my brother and I fell in love with cooking. Food is such an important part of our tradition and our culture and you can say that literally got passed down to us via our own DNA!
Shawarma is an Iraqi version of a sandwich or a wrap and making it is one of the things that transports us both back to our shared memories and a very special place and time in our lives.
One of the things we love most about Shawarma is just how easy and convenient it is. Even when we were quite young, we could make it ourselves. It’s one of those dishes that kids and teenagers can easily add to their repertoire to rustle up for lunch or when they have the munchies.
As we were growing up, Yasser and I were both passionate about films. We particularly loved old western movies, all the classic Clint Eastwood films, especially Unforgiven. We were also night owls, so when the rest of our family went to bed, we’d binge watch movies until 2am… and inevitably we’d get hungry. Movies and munchies go hand-in-hand!
My brother, being older, always took the role of head chef but we’d head to the kitchen together to check out what was left in the fridge. In Arab households, you’ll always find some sort of meat, so we would cook it up quickly and build our own special wraps!
The beauty of our Shawarma is simplicity and taste and to be honest you can use what you like for the filling. Our recipe below is our favourite meat version.
Another childhood favourite of ours, one we would make without meat, was a solid peanut butter and fruit jam Shawarma. We always thought that was an absolute treat! Even to this day, we still make Shawarma with peanut butter and jam whenever I’m over at my brother’s house! Some things from your childhood should never be left behind!
We both still like to cook and looking back and thinking about where our culinary curiosity came from, it really did come from the way our mother curated her meals. She always cooked incredible meals for us and it really inspired us.
Back in Baghdad our kitchen was connected to our main living room and when we were doing homework or watching TV, we’d see our mum in the background cooking and that always piqued our interest.
Our fascination with the culinary arts was further developed by our family tradition of watching a TV show called Fatafeet every night. Fatafeet was a show that licensed episodes from international chefs like Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson. We used to watch it with my mother while we did our homework and if we all liked like the look of a featured recipe, our mother would cook it for us the following day.
My brother Yasser who I cooked with to share this recipe is married and has his own home now. He runs his own business and has two stores called Kanz Home meaning “Treasure House” in Arabic. It’s a beautiful boutique store stocking a range of home and decor needs. I can wander round there for ages – it’s much more fun than Bunnings! And I often bump into people I know. It has everything from wooden spoons and mixing bowls to pans to dinner services. If you’re decorating your house for Ramadan or Eid, there’s heaps of decorations from LED moon crescents to beautiful Maamoul and falafel moulds. (Do check out the recipes and watch the videos for Fatimah Omran’s Lebanese Maamoul and Amina El Shafei’s fantastic Egyptian Taamiyah, Egypt’s version of falafel – and give them a go.)
Our childhood passion for movies sparked my interest in Media Arts and Production and I now run my own business based on storytelling. Yasser’s passion for design, Arabian decor and styling was also sparked at a young age, helping our dad in his store in Baghdad.
Until 2107, Kanz Home was known as Home for Gifts, named after our father Baha Allawi’s business founded back in Iraq over 27 years ago when we were little kids. That business is still running really well operated by our family back in Baghdad and the shop has expanded to being a shopping centre in its own, right at the heart of Zayoona, a popular district in Baghdad.
The business started from my father’s passion for well-designed homes and his desire to share that with other families and that passion passed to Yasser. They both specialise in dinner sets and kitchen equipment which enhance the quality of our everyday culinary experience and they hope to focus and build on that in the future and to share their products with the world. The Covid pandemic has slowed down their plans to expand to Melbourne and Dubai and Covid restrictions have meant that our existing shops in the Sydney suburbs of Bankstown and Fairfield can’t always be open but thankfully our online store is very active so if you’re surfing the net, tempted to shop or just to browse, take a look at our website kanz.com.au. And when Covid restrictions ease, if you’re in Sydney, pop into Bankstown Shopping Centro and Fairfield – it’s fun browsing and you’ll generally find Yasser in one of those stores to say Hello!
Our father has always been a big influence on us both and he still is now with his experience and guiding principles for how to succeed. Yasser and I both watched and learnt everything from him and his guidance and wisdom is what has brought both of us to the stage we are today, operating our own businesses.
Our mother has also been a huge influence and support, helping in her own creative ways. Think of her as the creative artist who turns a boring Arabian shop entrance into an Aladdin’s cave of glittering treasures.
As with so many other families, food bonds us. With the arrival of Yasser’s daughter Mila, we can already see how that’s evolving and being passed down to the next generation of our family. Even at the young age of two, Mila loves to be in the kitchen helping out and more memories are already being made. We’re keen to create more of those memories and we’re glad to be able to share our story here on Recipes for Ramadan.Give our favourite Shawarma a try! I promise your family will bond over it too, sparking your own love story.
Mustafa and Yasser Allawi
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To make the mix, whisk together the olive oil, salt, all spice, cumin, cardamom, ground cloves, sumac and shawarma seasoning until well combined in a large bowl. Add steak strips and sliced onions and toss to fully coat the beef and onions with the marinade. Let it sit in the fridge for 1-2 hours.
When ready to cook, heat a ¼ cup of olive oil over medium heat in a bottom-heavy saucepan and add beef and onions. Cook for about 8-10 minutes until the beef and onions brown and are cooked though.
Assemble the beef shawarma with pita bread, add the tahini sauce and press the Shawarma with a presser to make it crispy. (Don’t have a presser? Visit Kanz Home online to buy yours!)
Enjoy with a side of chips and a hot or cold drink!
Turnip Pickles in beetroot
2 Tortilla breads
Mozzarella cheese (optional, Mustafa loves it)