Doner Kebab

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

doner kebab (or döner kebabı or even, in Canada, Donair), thin slices of marinated lamb packed tightly onto a vertical spit to form a solid mass and thus roasted, pieces of meat being cut off the outside as it browns, has become a familiar sight in western countries wherever Turkish immigrants have become established. The original in Turkey itself was, as its name dictates, ‘spinning roast meat’ and consisted of a large vertical spit of mutton or lamb (with much tail fat) roasted before charcoal arranged on shelves one above the other. When Turks began to work in large numbers in Germany during the 1960s, their food followed but, although much liked by the immigrants, it did not find favour with Germans until the offering was dressed up as a pitta bread sandwich filled with the doner meat, a salad of shredded lettuce and a sauce (usually chilli, barbecue, or garlic). The meat itself may be lamb, beef, or chicken and will be both thinly sliced ‘leaves’ and minced or ground (although in Germany minced meat is not permitted to exceed 60 per cent of the whole, in England it may well do so). The meat will be seasoned with spices (particularly some Cypriot recipes) or marinated. Doner kebab is the main type of fast food in Germany and very significant in Austria, Denmark, and Britain (where the chief entrepreneurs have been Turkish Cypriot in origin). It is also important in Australia, although it may go under other names (depending on which immigrant group is the more important) such as souvlaki or gyros. In Canada there is a variation called Donair, named after a Halifax restaurant which invented it in 1973. The gyro of Greece (also named for its turning action) is the same but different. Clifford Wright (1999) suggests it was not introduced into Greece itself until after the exchange of populations between Turkey and Greece in the 1920s. It too has travelled, particularly to America and Australia. There is more minced or ground meat in it than in doner kebab. It may also go under the name souvlaki, which should perhaps be restricted to more traditional forms of kebab. The shawarma of the Middle East (which has made its own journey to the restaurants of America, and Russia too) is broadly similar, although the meat may be more highly spiced, and other sauces such as tahini may be offered. For recipes, see Helou (2002). Sharwama travelled, too, to W. Africa (see west and central africa) in the wake of Lebanese merchants.