Remember that scene in E.T. with the Reese's Pieces? It reportedly boosted sales of the candy so high in 1982 that Hershey Corp. was forced to keep a factory open minting the candies 24/7. The moral of the story? Feature a food in a popular movie and people with not so subliminally find themselves craving it.
This weekend another record-breaking blockbuster, The Avengers, is producing a similar effect on hungry moviegoers. If you haven't seen it, here is the "shawarma scene," in which a battered Iron Man tells Captain America about his craving for a shawarma wrap from the place down the street. (Of course, the odds of a guy who was cryogenically frozen during the 1940s knowing what shawarma is might be a long shot.) Later, after the end credits, the entire superhero crew is shown sitting around a table contentedly wolfing down shawarma. Even the Hulk looks like he enjoyed it.
So is director Joss Whedon a big fan of Middle Eastern cuisine or what? We certainly hope so (we've always maintained that street food should be getting more screen time). And of course, what better actor to wax poetic about a shaved-meat sandwich than the estimable Robert Downey Jr., whose love of hamburgers was a recurrent theme in the first Iron Man.
But even more intriguing is the early evidence that suggests The Avengers is increasing sales of shawarma. TMZ reported that RoRo's Chicken, located just a few blocks from the Egyptian Theatre, experienced a huge surge in sales over the past few days. We contacted Hollywood's Zankou Chicken and received a similar response. Google Trends even shows a spike in U.S. Internet searches using the term "shawarma" this week.
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If you're looking for a place to assemble after the film for a shawarma wrap, which we obviously recommend, Hollywood might be the ideal destination. Zankou, RoRo's, and Al Wazir are all fine choices located in Hollywood proper. You can watch towers of slow-roasted chicken transformed by the swipe of a knife and the application of a few toppings for half the price of a small popcorn.
There is Falafel Arax to the east, where the beef and lamb shawarma is crisp, lovingly rubbed with spice, and dripping with aromatic fat. You could try an upscale version at Mezze on La Cienega, made from long-braised beef brisket, topped with amba, a funky pickled mango condiment, and a handful of house-cured pickles; or at Momed in nearby Beverly Hills for the duck shawarma, wrapped in a whole pita and paired with oven-dried tomatoes and buttery-sweet fig confit.
You could cross into the Valley for the large banquet-style Lebanese places like Carousel, Hayat's Kitchen and Skaf's, where sizzling shawarma arrives unadorned atop a massive pile of rice and hummus, waiting to be sluiced with pungent garlic sauce or tahini.
Our current favorite, though, might be Ta-eem Grill, a newish Israeli joint on Melrose, where the shawarma is indecently juicy and lightly seared, saturated with lashings of turmeric and cumin. You choose between a length of baguette or laffa, a thin stretchable flatbread, and build your sandwich by choosing toppings á la Subway: a bit of baba ghanoush, a bit of Israeli salad, a handful of green olives. The Avengers team worked together pretty well, but this sandwich might make a formidable arch-villain for the sequel.