Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

kebab now an English culinary term usually occurring as şiş (or shish) kebab, meaning small chunks of meat grilled on a skewer. Shashlik is a term which means essentially the same as şiş kebab but belongs to the countries of the Caucasus (armenia, azerbaijan, georgia) and has also become common in russia, where many cities now have sashlychnayas (shashlik cafés). The word kebab percolated into the Balkans in the form of ćevap (diminutive ćevapčići).

The word kebab has an interesting history. In the Middle Ages the Arabic word kabab always meant fried meat. The compendious 14th-century dictionary Lisdan al-’Arab defines kabab as tabahajah, which is a dish of fried pieces of meat, usually finished with some liquid in the cooking. The exact shape of the pieces of meat is not clear. However, since there was a separate class of dish called saraih, which consisted of long and thin strips of meat, and since most modern dishes called kebab call for more or less cubical chunks, it seems likely that kabab was chunks rather than strips.