Eating at Meshwe, for me, was an education. All of my pre-conceived notions about Middle Eastern food went out the window as I took my first ever bite of authentic shawarma. I’ve heard about it before, friends who grew up in the Middle East would wax poetic about the food, claiming that the different versions served here on our shores do not even come close. In that moment, I got it. I finally understood what they were talking about.
'Meshwe' is a Lebanese word that means grilled. In Quezon City, Meshwe is a small establishment that serves honest to goodness authentic Lebanese and Arabic food. Chef and owner Nathaniel Mounayer is half Filipino and half Lebanese. He grew up in the Middle East and he put up Meshwe because he felt that there was a lack of proper Middle Eastern food in the Philippines. I asked him what the main difference is between the Middle Eastern food here and what he was used to back home. He said, “everything.” “Nothing captures what you used to eat.” It turns out, everything that was and is still being done here from the method of cooking, bread, marinade, sauce, garnish and what have you is not reminiscent of the real thing. Chef Nathaniel clarifies that it’s not bad food, it’s just not authentic. That is why he opened Meshwe.
The Filipino palate favors sweet and salty food. In Lebanese cuisine, sour is the main flavor profile. Chicken is the star of the show, and not beef. Take the shawarma, for example. Their best-selling Chicken Shawarma Sandwich (P85) is made up of slices of tender chicken meat, Arabic fries (French fries dusted in Arabic spices) and pickle slices wrapped in a soft and chewy pita bread that’s been slathered in garlic sauce. That garlic sauce is permanently ingrained in my consciousness because it is the best that I have ever had. Smooth, lightly creamy to the point of frothiness, it is garlicky but pleasantly so. I suspect that you could slather it on leather and it would still taste fantastic. If you want to assemble your chicken shawarma yourself, you can get the deconstructed version, Chicken Shawarma Plate (P150).
They also have a Beef Shawarma Sandwich (P100) that tasted surprisingly fresh. Tender beef strips sautéed with tomatoes are wrapped in pita bread together with fresh parsley, mint, pickles, thinly sliced onions and tarator sauce which is made up of walnuts and garlic. They have a vegetarian shawarma, the Falafel Sandwich (P70). Falafel is a deep fried ball or patty of chickpeas and Arabic spices. Chickpeas usually take on the flavor of whatever they’re cooked with so the Arabic spices, closely resembling curry in aroma, were very prominent. Falafel is wrapped in pita bread together with fries, tomatoes, cabbage, parsley, pickles, and Tarator sauce. For some reason, this felt heavier to me than the first two shawarmas. It was hefty for a vegetarian meal and it packed a lot of flavor. None of their shawarma contain cheese, by the way. No mayo either which is why they have none of the “umay” factor that local shawarma tends to have. I will never look at shawarma the same way ever again.
Rice is not traditionally eaten in the Middle East the way it is here. Chef Nathaniel took the liberty of adding rice meals on the menu for those who want to partake in something heavier: Beef Shawarma Rice Plate (P125) and the chicken version, Shawarma Rice Plate (P100). Their rice meals are served with Bukhari rice which is basically rice cooked with onions, cumin, cinnamon, raisins, and tomatoes as far as I can tell. The rice had an interesting texture thanks to all the additional ingredients. Personally, it’s not my cup of tea because I’m not too fond of cooked raisins.
I recommend that you get the Hummus (P140) served with pita bread. It is creamy and nutty with a hint of tang from lemon juice. Chef Nathaniel makes everything in-house, including their amazing pita bread. It stretches a little and has a nice chew to it. An extra pita bread will on only cost you P10! The Sambusak (P100) are thin pastry triangles filled with either cheese or beef studded with fresh parsley. Dip it in the glorious garlic sauce. Just do it.
They offer one dessert and one dessert only. I asked Chef Nathaniel why this is and he said that there’s really no need for other desserts. And I must say that I agree. Muhallabia (P40) is a milk pudding that was made with rose water. It is topped with crushed pistachios for added taste and texture. It is nice and creamy with the distinct taste of rose water being the main flavor. If you’ve never had rose water before, just think of the smell of roses. It tastes like that just subtler.
Meshwe is located in a charming little compound made up of several small restaurants known simply as “The Compound”. I spent a few hours there and it was evident that Meshwe was the most popular place to eat because they never ran out of customers. According to Chef Nathaniel, a lot of people like his food, some don’t. That’s fine by him since he knows that people have different preferences. He will stick to his dedication to authenticity. I, for one, am glad that he will. Meshwe has given me a new-found appreciation for Middle Eastern food.
Meshwe is located at 33 Malingap St., Teachers Village, Diliman, Quezon City. They are open from Tuesday-Saturday, 2pm-10pm. For updates, like them on Facebook: facebook.com/Meshwe.