Restaurant Review: Bismilla Kebabish
Though it may not be what one might expect to be craving when living in a food city like Barcelona, hot, delicious kebabs are something that keep the local masses fed (not to mention the hoards of skateboarders that congregate around Barcelona’s ‘kebab ground-zero’—Carrer de Joaquín Costa). Joaquín Costa is a pumping artery of refreshing life-blood through the heart of the ever-evolving Raval neighbourhood. Among the street’s dive bars, modernist landmarks, exotic fresh-markets, hidden restaurants, vintage shops and eclectic venues, the hip youth of Barcelona mingle happily with the barri’s vibrant immigrant community.
The well-known street is working-class by day and trend-setting by night, with bold graffiti as the backdrop; shouting neighbours and skateboard wheels on concrete its soundtrack. However, one thing that brings the starkly contrastingly denizens of the upper-Raval together is the hands-down consensus that kebabs are delicious and that the best come from Bismillah Kebabish—a 100 percent Halal, Turkish and Pakistani restaurant that boasts over a decade of success.
It is instantly apparent that the place is good when it is packed with people, while employees of nearly identical businesses on either side are languishing in boredom, with tired faces that mirror the sadly-wilting lettuce awaiting the next naïve diner. At Bismillah, the quality is excellent and the service is nearly always fast and fierce, though the peak-hour wait is sometimes a test of fortitude. The first step to getting your hands on a steaming chicken kebab is navigating the queue—less of an organised line and more of a hungry crowd, milling around the service counter, wordlessly trying to figure out who has yet to order and hoping with all their hearts that the kebab being wrapped is theirs.
Of the chicken and beef kebabs (which are referred to here as shawarma, an Arabic word for the Turkish döner kebab, both meaning “turning”, a reference to the rotating spit-roaster), the former is by far the star; a quickly dwindling skewer of slow-cooked chicken breasts and thighs that is shaved ceaselessly by the fast-moving counter crew. The tender meat is given a final sear on the plancha grill before being heaped onto fresh-baked flatbread, hot out of the tandoor oven that helps make this restaurant unique.
If you have ever used a tandoor oven you know that it is hot. Really hot. Like nearly 500ºC. And to cook the flat bread (naan), the deft tandoor chef uses his hands (with the help of a cloth pad called a gaddi) to slap the dough to the inner wall of the vertical clay oven, creating deliciously chewy, yet crackling disks of flat bread (and probably burning off what is left of his arm hair in the process). The naan is retrieved from the tandoor oven with a long hook and sent down the line; the tasty vehicle for one of the hundreds of shawarmas sold on any given afternoon. ‘The Works’ includes lettuce, cabbage, onion, cucumber and yogurt sauce, with the tangy chili condiment coming highly recommended.
However, the tandoor oven isn’t only for making bread. The menu at Bismillah also features serval tandoori dishes, including the succulent Chicken Tikka—tender chicken breast marinated in yogurt and a proprietary tandoori masala spice blend that lends a reddish-pink hue to the final product. The chicken is skewered on long rods and roasted vertically inside the searing hot tandoor oven, garnering a slight but pleasant char. Each platter is served with fluffy rice (or chips) and crisp salad. In addition, Urdu specialities like curried chicken, beef meatballs, and falafel round out the affordable menu.
The seating is ample, but at the busiest times of day your best bet may be to order your shawarma to go and join the dozens of other outdoor diners around the corner, drinking cheap beer and dribbling sauce down their chins. Enjoy your meal while watching the skateboard clan throw themselves repeatedly to the ground, cursing the heavens in search of the perfect trick at Barcelona’s famous ‘MACBA Skatespot’ (it’s actually a museum of contemporary art too, lest we forget). So, be careful of stains, watchful of flying skateboards, and bring plenty of napkins.
Carrer de Joaquín Costa 22