The Spitting Image of Fast Food

by Stephen Shull on August 13, 2009 · 6 comments

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Not long after I’d begun teaching in Majorca a student asked me if it were true that people eat lots of “trash food” (“fast food” or “junk food” rendered in his particular Spanglish) in America. The question got my attention – not just because of his mistake, but because I’d never thought about it while in Spain.

Of course, Americans eat a lot of fast food; there’s no question there. Spain, however, eats a good lot of fast food too. When I told my student that I didn’t think Americans ate particularly more “trash food” than Spanish people do (taking care, of course, to explain the terms “fast food” and “junk food”), he was a bit dismayed. I don’t know if he was a big fast food consumer himself, but he seemed to take some comfort in the idea that whatever amount of low quality food Spanish people consumed, Americans consumed more. Not so: Fast food has caught on big in Spain, and the lion’s share of the market is dominated by big American companies – McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC. The ubiquitousness of these chains outside the U.S. gives many the unfortunate impression that this is America’s food.

Amidst the forest of big American chains there is another fast food option: the kebab. This is neither from Majorca nor from Spain, nor is it limited to these demarcations, but to talk about food in Majorca without mentioning the kebab would be a major oversight. Kebabs are everywhere. They are healthier and heartier than most similarly priced choices. You can find them in any part of the city, but one can’t help but notice their proliferation near dance clubs and other night spots, a testament to their popularity as a snack in the wee hours of the morning.

Kebapa - Palma, Spain Kebapa - Palma, Spain
My favorite kebab stop in Palma is Kebapa, a hole in the wall not far from where I live. The form kebabs take here and most everywhere in Spain is the döner kebab: meat (either chicken or veal at this locale) that is stacked on and shaved off a giant rotisserie skewer, then packed into a pita with vegetables and your choice of spicy or “fine herbs” sauce. That’s not it for Kebapa; you can have a kebab packed with french fries, a vegetarian kebab made with feta cheese, a kebab in pizza form or the “kebab de la casa” (house kebab), essentially a gargantuan version of the basic option.

What sets Kebapa apart doesn’t have to do with reinventing the wheel; rather, it’s good meat, fresh vegetables and powerfully flavorful dressings. They don’t skimp on portions, either, which makes the deal as delicious as the food itself. The kebab pizza is a special occasion dish and is what it sounds like: a standard pizza with kebab meat on top, perfect for when you wanted to add a lot of melted cheese to your late night snack. On most visits, however, my roommates and I go for the regular kebab with french fries stuffed inside, adding the perfect note of crispy to the already meaty, crunchy and creamy assemblage.

Kebabs are a classic, portable street food; Kebapa itself is jammed with a few tables should you like to stay and eat, but most of the times I stop by I take my prize home for consumption. Eating at Kebapa has never appealed to me – whether it’s the powerful heat from the spit or seemingly endless club mixes playing loudly over the speakers, it’s never a particularly comfortable place to be. When a place makes kebabs this good (I have yet to taste a better one), though, I’m willing to put up with a lot.

Between the steady flow of immigrants from North Africa, German tourists who bring their own love of kebabs by way of their country’s sizable Turkish population, and the food’s popularity with just about everyone, kebabs have become well rooted in Palma. While I would love to see a truly local fast food option here, I’m still happy to see something flourish that isn’t an attempt to replicate McDonald’s. Globalization may be responsible for the arrival of bad American food to Majorca, but it’s brought some good Middle Eastern food here as well. Fins la pròxima!

Carrer de Costa i Llobera, 24
07005 Palma de Mallorca

James Boo August 13, 2009 at 11:06 pm

I’m actually interested in how you explained the difference in trash food consumption… how does Spain measure up in the consumption of processed foods? I was under the impression that America is still king by far when it comes to frankenfoodstuffs.

Zach August 14, 2009 at 12:16 pm

I am also curious: what makes kabobs in Palma different than, say, the same thing in New York City? I know, in Russia, for instance, they use lavash instead of pita bread and dill instead of everything else.

Doug August 14, 2009 at 2:58 pm

The most beautiful girl I have ever seen with a kebab.

James Boo August 14, 2009 at 8:56 pm

Good kebab seems hard to come by in Manhattan, though I haven’t tried especially hard to find. The main pitfall is meat quality: Most of the lamb kebab I’ve seen here (namely, that on the street) looks like some kind of factory made block of meat on a stick. Compare this to the kebab shown here or the shawarma at a place like Zankou in LA, where cuts of meat are layered on the spit in giant stacks and then slow roasted, juice and fats dripping through and eventually out the bottom, where they are gathered and used to grill the browned meat sliced off the edges. There are other differences, but one look at the meat and I know whether or not I’ll be walking out of a kebab shop wherever I am.

Stephen Shull August 16, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Well! I’m sure you can find a kebab in New York City that resembles its Majorcan counterpart very strongly.

The first and biggest difference is its ubiquity. The kebab in Majorca (and in Spain generally, and in other places in Europe) has caught on in a much more complete way than it has in any part of America. So getting a kebab is a different experience than here, even if the item is much the same. It’s incorporated itself into the culture so strongly that it is much more like getting a hamburger or hot dog in a lot of ways – at least in terms of how common it is, and the number and variety of options you have for doing so.

As far as actual differences in the kebab, it’s hard to say. With the immense quantity of kebab on offer, there’s a lot of variety in Majorca, too. Kebapa’s kebabs were heavier on the meat than some others, I’d say, and I also liked their “fines herbes” sauce – I think it was yogurt-based, but it just seemed creamier and fresher than a lot of similar kebab condiments. Also, they made it with veal (or chicken). While not PC or ethically sound at all, I have to say it was very tasty. I don’t object at all to lamb or chicken (which is the usual kebab meat on offer), but uh, tender baby cow is good.

James Boo August 17, 2009 at 4:46 pm

Haha; I did default to some blanket statement there. I am now officially on a kebab mission!

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