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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Trader Joe's Shawarma Chicken Thighs

During my days in Hollyweird, California, a Lebanese restaurant called Roro's was brought to my attention by a co-worker. Not only was it affordable and delicious, but it happened to be situated exactly halfway between my apartment and my place of employment. 

I walked to work in those days, so I could easily pop in and out of the tiny hole-in-the-wall establishment without having to battle chaotic L.A. traffic and the tragically undersized and congested parking lot of the building in question, which I fondly referred to as "Satan's Strip Mall" by virtue of its address at 6660 Sunset Blvd—not to mention the apparently demon-possessed folks who frequented the area. 

It was there I fell in love with chicken shawarma. I never got anything else. I ate it for lunch or dinner at least once or twice a week for a number of years.

Since then, I've tried chicken shawarma from a few other places. Each was tasty, but there will always be a place in my heart for Roro's. And if you live in the Los Angeles area, but have no desire to venture into the Dark Land of Mordor, AKA Hollywood, Zankou Chicken is a close second-favorite of mine for shawarma, with locations conveniently scattered about the Southland.

And then there's this stuff from Trader Joe's. I have mixed feelings, as does Sonia.

Flavor-wise this offering lacks the tang of the chicken shawarma that I'm used to. I'm accustomed to shawarma marinated in yogurt with a good bit of lemony zing. Most chicken shawarma recipes you'll find online include a significant amount of lemon juice, and while this product does include "lemon juice" in its ingredients, I think the citrus flavor gets lost under the rest of the spices. And, alas, no yogurt. There's almost an Indian spice flavor here. Maybe it's the turmeric?

It's not a bad flavor. It's just not quite what I was expecting.

The texture is even further from my expectations. This chicken is much thicker and chewier than any shawarma I've ever had. The instructions do say to "slice" before serving—something we neglected to do with our first serving (pictured above). With subsequent attempts, we sliced it as thinly as we could, and I will say that the product works much better with smaller chunks of chicken, particularly when they're mixed with other Mediterranean foods. But still, there's just enough fat or gristle content in most pieces of chicken (at least in the package that we obtained) that it lacks the melt-in-your-mouth perfection of restaurant-quality shawarma.

All in all, the chicken still went well with Trader Joe's Apocryphal Pita and Roasted Garlic Hummus, as well as some tabbouleh. The meal wasn't unsatisfying at all, despite the product's shortcomings. I think I'd have enjoyed it far more if I'd never had good shawarma and lacked any expectations. It could be that TJ's offering mimics Turkish shawarma or some other regional variant of the Middle Eastern dish, while I'm primarily only familiar with the Lebanese version. 

Our package was $6.69, but price will vary by weight. Ours was one of the lowest-priced that we saw. We were able to get about four reasonably-sized servings out of it.

I'll be generous and throw down three and a half stars. Sonia gives it three and a half as well.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.


  1. If you like Zankou Chicken, try TJ's Garlic Spread-Dip. It's almost exactly like Zankou's garlic sauce.

    1. That garlic dip is AMAZING. And potentially NSFW! Haha, it’s gives you impressive garlic breath ;))

    2. yes, that is garlic ambrosia... i eat it with TJ's pita crackers or potato chips... mmm...

  2. You might improve the flavor by sauteeing it again after it's done cooking and cut into smaller pieces. If you watch at most shawarma places, they usually cook the meat again after it's been shaved off the big spit. That way you get crispy/caramelized texture in each piece, so it might help you avoid the chewy/rubbery texture you get when you eat the whole thigh.

  3. Not sure if you used an oven or grill but i think the char on the outside is important for both flavor and texture- might be better seared in a skillet and then baked if you want to use the oven.
    The annato seems weird here, it’s mostly used for that orangey color but also certainly has a specific flavor that is not found in middle eastenr cooking

  4. I cooked the thighs and let them cool to put in the fridge. Once it’s cold, it’s much easier to slice it super thin the way shawarma is usually served. Then you can reheat in a skillet to get those crisp pieces and to bring it to heat. Tastes WAY better this way and much, much more like shawarma. Serve it with the garlic toum, green zhoug sauce, and your choice of hummus in a pita w lettuce and Persian pickles (and any other condiments/garnishes you prefer).. delish!


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