I just read a cute article about “Schwarma Reem,” which was one of the first restaurants I considered a favorite after arriving in Jordan last year. The article was written by Michael Slackman and featured in the “World” section of the New York Times, and talks about the small size of the establishment, the pack of clientele outside its cheery red gate, and hints at how fabulously wealthy its current owners must be. Go on – give it a read. Clicking the link will open up a new tab.

A picture I took of Reems last year before they added their big overhead sign

A picture I took of Reem's last year before they added their big overhead sign

Personally, although I still love Reem’s and visit the restaurant at least once a week (hard not to when I walk past it every day), I’ve graduated to more expansive food tastes – which is to say, different schwarmas from different restaurants. As tasty (zakki) as Reem’s is, they’re just getting too small and too expensive compared to what you can get just down the block. Also, they only serve the lamb/goat schwarma even though every single other schwarma stand I’ve seen also adds chicken to their menu. There’s a particularly nice one that’s down the street from Whitman in Swefiyeh – the lamb schwarma are the same price, but twice the size and with even more meat.

You just can’t beat the atmosphere of Reem’s, though. One thing that Slackman didn’t mention was the less-legal businesses that have sprung up around Reem’s to feed off of the massive press of people that converge there every night from 5 til 2 in the morning. There’s an old sheikh that has a pirated computer program “business” that he sets up each evening in the parking area right in front of Reem. He sits in his chair in front of two or three huge racks of discs with things like “Arabic Language Photoshop” and “Arabic Cracked Windows XP with Service Pack 3” or “Study Qur’an Now” written on them. To the left and right of Reem’s doors are men with slicked-back hair that have spread a few dozen DVD cases with the latest releases on the concrete sidewalk. Anyone trying to reach the cashier has to dance around these smiling vendors, dodge the elbows of at least 5-6 people who don’t realize that when you finish ordering, you move, before you finally are able to stretch out a hand, like a drowning man reaching for a life preserver, and clutch the metal windowsill. If you don’t grab right on and slowly drag yourself forward out of the next half dozen people who are trying to do the same thing at the same, you will be carried away on the human current and have to start all over again.

Once you’ve successfully reached the windowsill and propped your elbows on it (the universal symbol for “I’ve reached the window, back off”) my friend Nidal glances at you and grins. He always greets me now with, “Ah, how are you, zakki”?” which basically exhausts his knowledge of English. He’s a slender, bespectacled man whose fingers fly over the new touchscreen register as he calculates orders varying in size from one schwarma to sixty (I’ve seen someone order that before). The touchscreen is new, purchased a couple months after I arrived in the country – coincidence? You push the other thrusting hands out of the way and drop a few dinar into the metal dish next to him, which vanishes within seconds and is replaced by the change. A second later, Nidal bats the other hands out of the way and slides the all-important white receipt paper into your hand with the English order number printed upon it. This is another new thing – until the touchscreen system came along, we would just receive pieces of newspaper with Arabic numerals scrawled on them – in fact, I think I probably have Reem’s to thank for how quickly I learned what numbers looked like and how to say them!

Because you’re probably a foreigner and not going to wait trollishly in front of the window, you’ll allow yourself to be rocketed backwards out of the crowd, clutching your paper, where you can peruse the sheikh‘s selection of dusty merchandise while trying to avoid being hit by cars speeding past you from the Second Circle. Many nights, and almost always on weekends, the police have a man stationed on the corner next to Reem’s whose entire job seems to be to shout angrily at cars and trucks that try to park, double park, or triple park on sidewalks or on top of each other in order to queue up for Reem’s. There’s always an evening traffic jam at the Second thanks to Reem’s! All of us keep an ear cocked towards the glowing window behind us where a man wearing a baseball cap hoarsely shouts out the current order number while hoisting the white plastic bag with the goods into the air. “Wahadoashreen! Ithnainoashreen!” he roars as he tries to say the numbers as quickly as possible and keep the bag out of reach for less scrupulous patrons who might try to grab the wrong bag and make off with it. Let’s be honest here – it doesn’t help that there’s always a few ridiculously drunk guys in the crowd fresh from the bars down the street near First Circle.

But in general, the attitude is that of brotherly camraderie. I completely agree with what Slackman says, describing Reem’s as a “social equalizer.” Patrons range from the poorest Egyptian street cleaner for which Reem’s is a weekly treat away from the much-cheaper falafel with fuul paste, to the foreign aid workers like myself who I occasionally hear in the crowd with me speaking German, Dutch, and English, to the wealthy businessmen that have had their expensive Porsches keep circling around the Second Circle as they wait for their schwarma to be prepared. As far as I know, there is no “phone order” option and certainly no online ordering, so for the forseeeable future there will always be that jam-packed crowd in the street there next to Second Circle.

I’m really making myself hungry now for one of those schwarma. There’s less than a week remaining in my American vacation before I fly back to Amman next Monday night. And of course, the first place I’m going  when I get back on Tuesday evening is to Reem’s. I can’t wait to see all the guys again and get some zakki schwarma for Zakki!

Thanks to my journalism-savvy friend Sandy for the link!