As a child I looked forward with great anticipation, and would sit with a drooling mouth, thinking about the end of Summer. Most children lament the closing of this season knowing that school is just around the corner. But for me, the shifting of the earth's axis and the shortening of the evenings meant a few things...all of which generated around the concept of putting some food on a stick- cotton candy at the County Fair, chocolate dipped cheesecake from the Renaissance Festival, souvlaki from the Greek Festival, and for very special occasions "pig roasts" when tailgating at the football games. I've held close the notion that eating from a thin piece of wood makes things taste better and is that much more entertaining to eat.
So twenty-something years later, when I was told I had to try the best kebab in Barcelona, do you think I had any other reply than yes? Well, no. The problem was finding the heavy wooden doors of this meat palace in el corazón of the Gothic quarter open. I circled the cobble-stone streets weekly; morning, noon, and night....however, my luck failed me, as I always seemed to pass on Sundays, holidays (they took a break for the Lamb Festival and the month of August when Barcelona shuts down), or the hours of the afternoon siesta. So finally, when the heavens opened one warm evening and granted me access to the magic and legend that awaited me inside, I was suddenly transported back to all those memories of precious delicacies on a stick.
Kebabs (shawarma in Arabic, döner kebab in Turkish, and gyros in Greek) are not difficult to find in Barcelona. With immigration from North African and Middle Eastern countries on the rise, one can stumble upon standard offerings all day long. I have been told, that what sets El Cocinero de Damasco apart from all it's competitors in Barna is the way in which the meat is prepared and presented. The majority, or all (I'm not 100% on the statistics), of the kebabs come from meat which is frozen in the shape of a giant cone. Upon arriving to the shop, it is thawed, and placed infront of the electric vertical oven, which slowly cooks the meat as it spins round and round. Instead, at Damasco, the meat is never frozen, the lamb and beef mixture is placed fresh on the skewer (remember that stick idea I was talking about), and cooked in this manner. After ordering your selection, you stand and wait patiently for him to personally carve the meat and hand-toss the spices (including cinnamon) - no electric shavers here. Meanwhile, if you like, he will engage in friendly conversation...an attribute I find lost in many client to business-owner interactions of today. His passion lies in that fact that his public enjoys and is satisfied with what they receive.
Chef Salem Khabbaz preparing with tanto mimo my kebab
I don't know how else to share this with you, and the world, other than by street view, tucked behind the narrow alleys of Plaça de Sant Jaume on Carrer del Palau that cuts with Carrer de Cervantes. Despite my endless search, the internet doesn't seem to hold any record of this place existing, and maybe the owners want it that way. By no means do I expect my humble blog post to make them mainstream, but I do hope that during your journey through Barcelona, you will be able to find this mythic establishment. It's well worth a few days of starvation during Ramadan, and will save you the thousand mile journey to Syria.
El Cocinero de Damasco
Location: Carrer Palau (3?) where it meets with Carrer Cervantes and Carrer dels Gegants
Hours: Hard to say
Cookbook/ Libro de recetas: El Cocinero de Damasco - Cocina, Cultura y Recetas