Newcomers to Ottawa may be confused by the unique diet kept by locals, consisting, if you’re to believe the travel literature, largely of BeaverTails — locally farmed deep-fried dough with sugar, cinnamon and lemon, as well as other optional toppings, a wintertime favourite of Rideau Canal skaters — and, of far greater year-round consumption, shawarmas, a Lebanese import consisting of slow-cooked seasoned, marinated and skewered chicken or beef, rolled into a pita bread sandwich with various combinations of lettuce, hummus, tomatoes, onions, pickles, pickled turnips and sauces, all of it heated in a press.
According to Wikitravel.com, “Ottawa probably has more shawarma and falafel restaurants than any other place on Earth (outside of the Arab World, of course)…”
It’s certainly true that O-town boasts more shawarma shacks than anywhere else in Canada, owing at least in part to the influx of Lebanese immigrants to this city that began in 1975 as that country entered into a decade-and-a-half-long civil war.
(A number of shawarma purveyors explain, however, that the Canadian version rarely resembles the original, which typically includes french fries among its ingredients.)
Nevertheless, the best thing about Ottawa’s profusion of shawarma dining options is that their quality largely falls between good and excellent. You’d be hard-pressed to find a bad one. Just why that is so remains one of those mysteries, like why boxing rings are square. It could be that the ingredients used, unless they’ve actually gone bad, simply can’t be assembled in a combination that doesn’t taste good.
But God help the shawarma-addicted student who attends Algonquin College or Carleton University and has no car (or access to UberEATS). The outlet closest to Algonquin is Princess Shawarma (formerly Prince Shawarma, begging further investigation), on Clyde Avenue, a good half-league away (30 minutes by foot).
Carleton students, although closer to the Centretown/downtown nexus of shawarma bistros, have a twentysome-minute walk to the closest one, Cedars & Co., a grocery store with attached restaurant. The next closest, Shawarma Spot, at the food court of the Billings Bridge shopping centre, is about a half-hour away, and, as already mentioned, in a food court.
The University of Ottawa, on the other hand, appears to have been built with shawarmas in mind, and students there can eat shawarmas at a different place every day of the week without putting much wear and tear on their kicks. Of additional benefit to students downtown, many of the establishments in Ottawa’s core are open long into the night, the better to aid, um, studying. And one of them, 3 Brothers Shawarma & Poutine, with three locations within easy walking distance, offers a poutine that includes shawarma chicken or beef.