The University Village underground food court. Nowhere else1 will you find two Middle Eastern restaurants, two Chinese restaurants, two Japanese restaurants, and two Vietnamese restaurants operating in one confined space. If you are fortunate enough to have pre-decided upon an ethnic cuisine prior to arrival, congratulations, you have only completed half of your journey. You are now tasked with choosing between two mom-and-pop eateries within mere feet of one another, serving the EXACT. SAME. DISHES. To help you cope with this stressful selection, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide, through intensive field research, to help you navigate the depths of the village like a pro. Welcome to Battle of the Basement.
For our first comparison, we pitted the two Mediterranean eateries in the village food court, Petra and Donair Town, against one another in a taste test of epic proportions. We yearned to discover which served the finest falafel, the tastiest tahini, and the sexiest shawarma. To accomplish this, we compared them in terms of their chicken shawarma plates and falafel plates.
An ordering mishap left us with a falafel/chicken wrap and a beef plate from Donair Town, so we dissected the wrap with surgical precision and re-arranged the order to resemble our order from Petra. With our first obstacle overcome, and our stomachs teetering on the brink of starvation, the tasting began. P.S… For those who are wondering, when I say “we” I am referring to myself, and my two highly trained taste testers; Jencer and Speremy, whose names I have changed to mask their true identity. Anyways. Without further ado…
CHICKEN: Petra’s poultry continually marinates in a hotel pan prior to serving and is very tender as a result. That being said, it lacks flavour in comparison to Donair Town’s chicken, which although tough, could easily be eaten on its own. Edge: Donair Town.
FALAFEL: Petra’s Falafel is incredibly underwhelming. The miniature balls were microwaved right before my eyes and had approximately zero taste. Donair Town however, gave us falafels that tasted like… well, falafels. The chunks of chickpea had a hearty texture that reminded you that you were in fact eating falafel, unlike Petra’s which inspired no such confidence. Edge: Donair Town.
POTATOES: Donair Town’s potatoes looked, and tasted, like bloated French fries. As much fun as it is to have a deep-fried spud emerge from a blanket of tahini when you least expect it, it is not at all conducive in achieving a true Mediterranean experience. Petra’s potatoes are garlicky and get the job done. (Yes, for all intents and purposes “garlicky” is a real word) Edge: Petra.
RICE: Donair Town’s rice is yellow… like really yellow… like neon glow-in-the-dark yellow. Even if it can be argued that the rice is native to Middle-Eastern cuisine, it is strangely off-putting. Petra gives customers the option of white or brown rice, so you can put your mind at ease with a healthier-looking rice colour as you carbo-load to your heart’s content. Aesthetics aside, it’s hard to distinguish the flavour of the rice at either restaurant from that of the sauces trickling through them. Edge: Petra.
Garnishes: There is really no competition here. Petra offers hummus, tabbouleh, tzatziki, olives and Greek salad on their shawarma plates while Donair Town garnishes theirs with a depressing 4-veggie mix in a vinaigrette. Petra charges just under a buck more per plate, but you get way more dish for your dollar. Edge: Petra.
CONCLUSION: After a combined half-pound of tahini consumed, and an hour spent under the admiration of several spectators (“are you guys doing like, a science experiment or something?”), our panel came to the following consensus:
If you’re a vegetarian, and have no protein options besides falafel, Donair Town is definitely the place to go. Similarly, if you love flavourful chicken, shaved directly off an upright spit, a shawarma wrap from Donair Town will serve you wonderfully as a lighter meal option.
However, if you yearn to sit down with a dense plate of meat, carbs, and a plethora of sides, Petra will take you on a journey to the heart of the Middle East and leave you full beyond your wildest dreams. As far-fetched as that hyperbole may sound, I promise that you will be satisfied after a plate from Petra, with the vague feeling that you are nine months pregnant with a decent-sized shawarma baby.
If after reading this article, you decide to put your new shawarma knowledge to good use, and spend the next month drowning yourself in Petra’s hummus, you’ll probably be ready to expand your culinary horizons once again. If this is the case, join us in December as we put the village food court’s Japanese eateries to the test, in the next instalment of Battle of the Basement.
1Within a kilometre of UBC Vancouver campus.