Shawarma Wars | The Empire Strikes Back

A few months back I wrote a rant about how high the prices of shawarma sandwiches are in Jordan. I feel it’s still a relevant topic because like I argued back then, shawarma sandwiches are part of a socio-economic hierarchy of food the most common Jordanian can afford. This is only one of the many reasons you’ll find shawarma vendors packed with people in both abdoun (the rich part of town) and bag3a (or Baqaa) refugee camp (the not so rich part of town). The other reason is that shawarma rocks.

But it’s a topic that’s even more relevant now with the recent shawarma scare in the country. Hundreds fell ill and there was even one or two casualties, all from salomenalla. One guy even missed his wedding.

This has already happened twice in the past year but the latest incident, in bag3a, happened on a larger scale causing the government to essentially ban shawarma in the country.

If you listen to morning radio talk shows like Mohammad Al-Wakeel, you’ll hear a hundred shawarma vendors complaining about the move. But many citizens have praised the move. Opinions are muddled (hence my most recent poll over there on the sidebar).

Some have argued that it’s collective punishment.

Others see the government’s decision as an appropriate and responsible one.

Still, there are those who claim this is the failure of the government to monitor these places and make sure they are adhering to public health and safety codes.

(I should note however that many have since opened, especially in the wealthier part of town where I’m assuming it’s easier to get a clean bill of health. But it was still a rough couple of hours for west Ammanis.)

I personally have no idea where I stand. I’m probably in the ‘all of the above’ category. It is in fact a failure of ministry monitoring, especially since this is the third time it happens. They should’ve been on this since the start of summer when consumption increases as well as the potential of the bacteria to fester in the swelling heat.

At the same time, there are two things you can never mess with in a country and that’s health and security. You don’t want to take chances with people’s lives, hence a mass closure seems like a responsible move. Mass recalls happen all the time in countries all over the world; from food to toys.

Beneath all this there are mumblings in many social circles, about the Minister of Health who many see as inadequate for the position (especially when compared to his predecessor).

But at the core of all this…

The overall effect has been an entire population denied a very common staple (junk) food. The rich can afford it but many of the poor will resent it.

It’s kind of ironic how such a small thing can cause so much social discontent. People would’ve been angrier had this happened a few weeks from now, during Ramadan. And had this been a bread scare, I’m 99% sure there would have been rioting in the streets followed by martial law being declared.

It’s a costly decision economically speaking and I’m sure (or rather, I hope) articles will be written in the days to come about how badly vendors were effected. But then comes the question of whether monetary value should trump the value of life.

This is all the more reason for the Ministry of Health to take their jobs more seriously instead of waiting for something to happen first and then moving into to remedy the situation.

The most costly disruptions always happen when something we take completely for granted stops working for a moment.*

The other irony of all this is…I have never felt more like a shawarma sandwich in my life.

+ More On The Shawarma Ban


  • dude who gives a goot about shawerma? buy chicken, make your own shawerma! or do like i did with my buddy where we cooked fajitas!
    there are other foods than shawerma!
    may the force be with you Fo Fi Fal Falfooli

  • dude who gives a toot about shawerma?

    I pray that God will forgive you one day.

    buy chicken, make your own shawerma! or do like i did with my buddy where we cooked fajitas!

    yeah…what you’ve just described was my college life. i’m in jordan…it’s real shawarma or bust!

  • Actually it is quite angering having Jordanians favourite meal banned just like this. Is this the only way our government can solve this problem? We have been eating shawerma for years and only recently such disatster happened? Can’t they investigate the problem and draw their precautions?

  • I live in England, there is no decent shawarma here…I dream of Jordanian shawarma regularly! To hear it has been banned makes me want to cry, Ive waited a whole year for some, and im going to cancel my trip Jordan in Ramadan if its not been reinstated haha

  • not really off-topic but kind of .. one of my pet peeves is arabs using the western way of spelling an arabic word when its wrong .. like for example its not fatah, its fateh .. its not shawarma its shawerma .. hehe just that ive been seeing several blog posts regarding this topic and a lot of them are spelling it shawarma and i always say to myself why .. ino ur arab u know better 😛

  • hahaha i’m sure god will forgive me one day! i love shawerma just as much as the next guy! extra mayo for Extra juiciness! however, i’m not really effected by the loss! it’s not like i was on a staple shawerma diet! aslan it’s bad for you! what with all the grease and oil and stuff! it’s a cheap heart attack! i’d rather die from a qrtr pounder!

    whatever happened to falafel? don’t you just love falafel? with all that free butane gas? might solve jordan’s gas problems 😀

  • Shawerma, Economics, and Poor Public Decison Making

    One can describe the current situation in Jordan as somewhat embarrassing, given that such a crisis has not been known until recently. Although far better than the days of yore when cat meat was often deputised for beef in some shawerma places (although those were the ‘legends’ all too often, we hear of these ‘legends’ but rarely do we hear the truth.

    The shawerma ban was taken as a measure, given that two major shawerma scares have occured in the past year due to a salmonella outbreak in Madaba and then in the Baqa refuguee camp. Indeed, the cause of the resturant was not known, but the case in Madaba did reveal one resturant owner who blamed the quality of eggs & a lapse in the system. Jordan’s tight-lipped & state censored media immediately trumpeted the ‘greedy merchant’ hypothesis.

    Officials took steps that cannot be described as prudent, but rather incongruious & questionable to ban on chicken shawerma throughout the Kingdom following two (isolated) cases in isolated parts of the Kingdom & generalised the gravity of the situation. The fall out is not merely limited to shawerma, but to government policy in general, but revealed a gross misunderstanding of the problems faced with real culprit, the Salmonella bacteria.

    Salmonella as it is can only be caught due to rotten eggs or related products (such as mayo) or uncooked or poorly prepared meat or chicken. Alternatively it can be developed naturally, but these are rare cases. With these considerations, the health ministry’s ban for ‘public safety’ seems questionable, as it did not extend to chicken or meat products in general, nor did it extend to mayo.

    Although it can cause an upset stomach, & symptoms include high temperature & vometing, it is hardly a deadly disease. It is believed that it can (although rarely) be fatal to those suffering from other complications. Indeed, a person discharged from hospital after suffering from salmonella died shortly afterwards.

    Yet the issue of banning chicken shawerma alone exposed numerous failures of the ministry of health.

    Including Threefold:

    1. Salmonella can come from meat as much as it does from chicken.

    2. The cause has not been established to be the quality of chicken.

    3. The incident took place in isolated parts of the Kingdom, far from major urban centres.

    The measures thus adopted are not only inapprorpriate, but their explaination or justification remain tedious to say the least. The Jordanian media’s journalists continue to cover the case casualy, & all dance to government-media’s theme of blaming anybody but the faults in the system that led to the most recent and unfortunate events.

    Perhaps there is a theme to promote national unity in generalising national problems and solutions when they arrise, afterall, the incidents have not been reported in major urban centres such as Amman, Zarqa, Irbid or elsewhere where a majority of residents reside.

    As usual, the state-controlled media plays to the tune of ‘dishonest merchants’ but the reality reveals something much deeper. The tragedy is how no objective discussion has been allowed & has been villified by those claiming national sentiments.

    The fact of the matter is, shawerma (like all other local products) suffers from discriminatory tax/tarrif laws, even on inputs that force producers (these ‘dishonest merchants’) to source inferior inputs & ingredients, & the result is over-priced & poor quality output. It results in everything, from food to fertilisers.

    As such, readers may be preplexed that even popular food is taxed. A minister some years ago said, “Shawerma is eaten by the rich, & Felafel by the poor” essentially ‘labeling’ anybody who eats this or that but furthermore justifying taxing Shawerma. Like many aspects of the discriminatory tax & tarrif system, the PM even as late as last month said that there would be a ‘qualitive leap’ in popular resturants that would be ‘noticed soon’ but so far this has disappeared.

    Quite what the PM or government officials imply is dubious. But as long as inputs are taxed &/or monopolised by state suppliers (for instance the Jordan who continue to provide the raw material to local fertiliser makers, albiet whose quality remains inferior to imported fertilisers who happen to use the same sourced raw materials.

    However, since the discussion is about Shawerma, the same principles apply. If sweating and high temperature is a symptom of something, then the poor quality of local products (including Shawerma) is a symptom of something much greater.

    While Jordan’s shawerma and popular resturants can be claimed to be ‘reasonably hygenic’ they are still behind those in neighbouring countries, both in terms of standards & application of the law. Would the health ministry have banned mayo if they knew that a majority of resturants don’t have standard procedures? Or do they consider standardising procedures to be beneath their role as a government? In my days abroad, there were minute details in every developed country on such procedures.

    The fact is, there is no serious investigation, no policy and no informed measure to deal with these cases & it will continue to have an adverse effect on everybody involved.

  • Another issue is, the government treats citizens like children, but the government in turn is not a very good parent as its track record has shown over the years (the mishandling of the Shawerma issue is one of many issues.

  • Hi, I myself LOVE Shawarma. Whenever I go to Jordan its usually my first and last meal. Here in Boston, MA You cant find that many shawarma stores. In fact theres only one that I know of. Its good I can say that, but it doesnt beat Jordans shawarma. Mmmm Im definalty missing it. But cant the government just investigate like its supposed to. The reason that many people got sick, can be investigated and easily resolved instead of just banning it. That way they can also figure out what went wrong and fix it so that it wont happen agian.

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