In the constant battle against my raging appetite, the mighty kebab in all its forms has long played an integral part in keeping this particular man’s adventure moving forward.
As we leave the first part of our journey behind and cross the Caspian Sea, I thought it only fitting to pay my respects to Russia and Central Asia’s best meaty snacks. Here is my Kebab top five for Russia and Central Asia. All kebabs are trackable on this interactive map.
KEBAB NUMBER 5: Russian Chip Shawarma
Holding up the foot of the table has to be the first shawarma I had in Russia, which was from a small kiosk that our host Stepan took us to in Khabarovsk.
What impressed me right off the bat was the sheer size of the thing! It was an enormous beast of a kebab that made even me struggle with my dinner a couple of hours later. It was my first kebab to contain chips. The jury is still out on that one as it all depends on the quality of the chip. The main thing that kept this at the bottom of the top 5 was the mayonnaise and ketchup instead of hot sauce. Come on Russia, what were you thinking?
KEBAB NUMBER 4: Azeri Salad and Lavash Bread
Coming in at number 4 was a street side lavash I had in Baku, Azerbaijan. The salad was the best of the whole trip and it even had a little tang to it. The meat was juicy and delicious but what really let this kebab down was volume. I’m not sure I would have been satisfied after 2 of them and after some of the behemoths that have crossed my path on this trip I was a little disappointed.
KEBAB NUMBER 3: Georgian Spicy Delight
In bronze medal position we have a lavash from a surprisingly stylish cafe in Telavi, Georgia. It was a healthy size, there were no chips or ketchup and the meat was nicely seasoned but what booked this kebab his position in the top 3 was the fact that the first question the young kebaber asked me was: “You want spicy?” After 3 months without anything hot…yes I did.
KEBAB NUMBER 2: Kazakhstan’s Finest Doner
Our runner up single handedly saved the reputation is kebabs, shawarmas and lavishes all across Kazakhstan. After weeks of ketchup-soaked cold greasy chips-butties-posing-as-kebabs that had me sworn off of kebabs forever I found Perfect Doner in the Caspian city of Aktau. Perfect may be overstating a touch but it certainly was pretty bloody good. Large, hot, plenty of good quality meat, and the chips were served on the outside. Well done, Kazakhstan, you got there in the end.
KEBAB NUMBER 1: Uzbek Lemon Zest Kebab
Number 1 with a bullet was found in an unassuming little café in the beautiful Silk Road city of Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The meat was beautiful, the sauce a zesty lemony affair and the ratio of meat to salad to sauce was spot on. I would have docked it points on size as it was lacking slightly, but that was remedied by my own clever strategy of taking a tiny girl (Sammi) to the kebab shop with me. Just as I had envisioned, she was unable to finish hers (she claimed it was “too meaty”! what doesn’t that even mean?!) which meant I had the final third of hers and left the place with a full belly and a smile on my face. Uzbekistan, I will never understand the attraction of the mono-brow and gold teeth combo on your women but you do know how to make a kebab. I salute you.
Click on the map link and zoom in to track down Phil’s favourite kebab joints: