For a taste of Lebanon and the Middle East with a little splash of Sri Lanka, look no further than Serendib. The casual dining restaurant opened in February and is located across the street from the Tumon Sands Plaza in the Tumon Bay Center.
As you enter and look behind the counter, get ready for some made-to-order goodness as you'll see the vertical spits, imported from Turkey, rotating with either their marinated chicken or New Zealand lamb, each one cooked slowly and evenly only to then be sliced off so to make the perfect shawarma wrap or sandwich.
What's a shawarma? For starters, it's one of the world's most popular street foods, similar to Greek gyros or Mexican tacos al pastor and taken from the 19th century Turkey's döner kebab, where a vertical spit of stacked and seasoned meat is sliced and cut off as it cooks.
Once the meat is sliced, it's usually then accompanied with some hummus and pita bread, or maybe put on a bun or in a wrap. Then it's served with some turmeric-seasoned rice, maybe some sesame-seed-based tahini sauce on the meat, or a simple and filling house salad on the side, also with tahini, that would almost certainly contain red onion, tomato, parsley and garlic.
For owner Sabri Jiffry, a Guam resident of 25 years, Serendib is also the realization of a life's goal and where he was able to put to work his love of honing his weekend cooking skills. While hailing from Sri Lanka originally, Jiffry actually fell in love with Middle Eastern food when he was living in Toronto in Ontario, Canada, in a Middle Eastern neighborhood as a college student. He loved the food so much he practically ate it every day, he says, and once he returned to Guam, after awhile he started to miss it and started trying to recreate it on weekends solely from taste and memory.
"It's been my dream for some time. ... It's been an itch," Jiffry says, with a grin. "And it's definitely been a learning experience for me."
Living the dream is what caused Jiffry to eventually leave the rental car business on Guam and try his hand with what he called his "own little place."
So far the results are good for Serendib, too. Jiffry has hired six people and the word of mouth has been kind and the crowd mostly local, he says.
The restaurant has just released the second version of its menu and besides the shawarma and hummuses, it also offers appetizing dips like baba ghanouj (roasted eggplant with garlic and tahini) and muhammara (roasted red pepper and walnuts), plus Middle Eastern staples like tabbouleh and fattoush salads, falafels, meat skewers of lamb kafta and shish tawook (chicken). Families can also take advantage of platters where you get a little bit of everything, and Serendib can do catering for large events, as well.
After you've gazed at all the Middle Eastern options on the menu, turn it over and that is where you'll find the menu travels to Jiffry's native country of Sri Lanka. There's even a nice photo of Sinhagiri, an ancient and famous rock fortress, hanging on the wall.
Jiffry brings the ingredients personally from his native homeland and uses them to make four different types of curry – chicken, beef, fish and veggie – as are what Serendib refers to as its "deviled" special, which is a delectable Sri Lankan-style spiced meat that is stir-fried with red chilis and onions, garlic, ginger, bell pepper and spices. The deep-red color of this dish coupled with the spiciness is how it gets its name, and it can come with shrimp, mussels, beef or chicken.
"This is like a Sri Lankan-Chinese stir-fry because it has a little soy sauce in it, but the 'devil' comes from the heat and the assortment of chilis that go into it, especially if they want it spicy," Jiffry says.
Serendib can also prepare vegan options like an okra chickpea stir-fry and a cauliflower stir-fry, and they also do a special Middle Eastern dish called Shakshouka Fish, where the fish is cooked in a fresh tomato and turmeric sauce with cumin and bell peppers. It, too, can come with mussels or shrimp.
"You can have this one spicy or mild," he says. "It really just depends on your preference but it's very aromatic with cumin, dill and it's a very savory dish."
Drinks and dessert
Some popular drink items include the refreshing homemade lemon and watermelon mint coolers, and for dessert the homemade baklava and the uniquely-textured date and walnut fudges dusted in shaved coconut.
"Bring your families and come on down," Jiffry says.