Ever since it opened late last year, downtown Oakland’s Shawarmaji has built up a faithful following with its crisp-edged, potently garlicky chicken and lamb—all cooked slowly on a traditional vertical shawarma spit. Now, chef-owner Mohammed Abutaha wants to share the love. Specifically, he wants to give other talented chefs the opportunity to tinker with his shawarma spit—a relative rarity in Bay Area kitchens.
So, starting today, Shawarmaji will launch a series of guest chef collaborations. First on the docket: CY Chia and Shane Stanbridge of Lion Dance Cafe, Oakland’s vegan Singaporean hot spot. For today’s debut, they’ve collaborated with Abutaha to create a true rarity here in the Bay Area: a seitan-based vegan shawarma that’s loaded onto, and sliced off of, the vertical spit—the same technique you’d normally only see used with a shawarma shop’s traditional meat cone.
“Pre-vegan, I used to love shawarma. It’s so fatty and well-spiced, juicy and delicious,” Chia says. “So we wanted something that could eat that way—the same fatty, juicy, super-savory taste.”
Creating a seitan-based shawarma that could be mounted onto a shawarma spit was largely a technical challenge, Stanbridge explains. Because seitan cooks at a much higher temperature than meat—and dries out when cooked for too long in a dry environment—Stanbridge and Chia decided to fully cook the seitan before finishing it on the spit. It’s a laborious process: The seitan gets sliced, fried, smoked and braised before it even arrives at Shawarmaji, and then it’s layered with a soy milk and mala spice emulsion to help keep things moist while the shawarma finishes cooking on the vertical spit.