JERUSALEM (CNS) — The Middle East has had its share of emirates and sheikdoms and sultanates, but there is still one emperor left.
His name is Charli Raphael, the emperor of Shawarma.
Shawarma is not on any map. Even inside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, it would be tough to spot the small parcel of property over which Emperor Charli rules.
Shawarma is a Middle Eastern variant of the gyro, the Greek sandwich of lamb with a piece of pita folded over it.
The main ingredient of Emperor Charli’s shawarma is chicken. It’s roasted on a vertical spit, just as you might see lamb at a Greek deli.
Once he slices the chicken and piles it atop the flatbread, Emperor Charli gives his subjects — the customers — the option of adding as many as eight items to the shawarma.
Even though the sign outside his shop proclaims “Emperor of Shawarma,” he’s a somewhat reluctant potentate. He only puts on his royal garb — a white chef’s jacket — just prior to slicing more chicken for hungry patrons.
Raphael is a Melkite Catholic.
“I don’t make a big deal about church,” he said through an interpreter during a slow spell of the midday lunch boom. “I go. I wouldn’t want to miss. I’m sure there are others holier than me. But I try.”
He has no delusions about being royalty once he shutters his shop for the night.
“I love making food. The knives are fun,” he added. Raphael rubs the knife blades against each other for show before snipping more chicken from the spit.
“It’s a good show,” he said, adding: “But I want to make people happy they come here. What if they come back? I want them to remember the emperor. What if this is their only time (in Jerusalem)? I don’t want them to feel bad, or cheated, and go away feeling bad.”
He adds: “This is my vocation. I’m not a priest, but I try to be the best I can be.”
“This is what God must want me to do,” said Raphael. “This makes me happy.”