This article is about the Turkish dish. For the Arab version, see Shawarma. For Greek version, see Gyro. Not to be confused with Shish kebab.
Döner kebab is a type of Turkish kebab, made of meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie. Similar dishes cooked on a vertical rotisserie are the Arab shawarma, Greek gyros, and Mexican Al pastor.
Döner meat being sliced from a rotating spit in Istanbul (2012).
Seasoned meat stacked in the shape of an inverted cone is turned slowly on the rotisserie, next to a vertical cooking element. The outer layer is sliced vertically into thin shavings as it cooks.
The sliced meat of a döner kebab may be served on a plate with various accompaniments, stuffed into a pita or other type of bread as a sandwich, or wrapped in a thin flatbread such as lavash or yufka, known as a dürüm. Since the early 1970s, the sandwich or wrap form has become popular around the world as a fast food dish sold by kebab shops, and is often called simply “a kebab”. The sandwich generally contains salad or vegetables, which may include tomato, lettuce, cabbage, onion with sumac, fresh or pickled cucumber, or chilli, and various types of sauces.
Before taking its modern form, as mentioned in Ottoman travel books of the 18th century, the döner used to be a horizontal stack of meat rather than vertical, like the cağ kebabı of Erzurum. Grilling meat on horizontal skewers has an ancient history in the Eastern Mediterranean, but it is unknown when slices of meat, rather than chunks, were first used.
In his own family biography, İskender Efendi of 19th century Bursa writes that “he and his grandfather had the idea of roasting the lamb vertically rather than horizontally, and invented for that purpose a vertical mangal”. Since then, Hacı İskender has been considered the inventor of Turkish döner kebap, though he might have been preceded by Hamdi Usta from Kastamonu around 1830.
With time, the meat took a different marinade, got leaner, and eventually took its modern shape. It was not until a century later, that döner kebab was introduced and popularized in Istanbul, most famously by Beyti Güler. His restaurant, first opened in 1945, was soon discovered by journalists and began serving döner and other kebab dishes to kings, prime ministers, film stars and celebrities. It has been sold in sandwich form in Istanbul since at least the mid-1960s. The döner kebab, and its derivatives shawarma and gyros, served in a sandwich, came to world-wide prominence in the mid to late 20th century. The first doner kebab shop in London opened in 1966, while Greek-style gyros was already popular in Greece and New York City in 1971.
In Germany, the döner kebab was introduced in 1969 in Reutlingen, before being popularized by Turkish guest workers such as Kadir Nurman in the early 1970s. While the claims of multiple persons to have “invented” the döner may be hard to prove, it is the distinctive style of sandwich that developed there, with abundant salad, vegetables, and sauces, sold in large portions at affordable prices, that would soon become one of the top-selling fast food and street food dishes in Germany and much of Europe, and popular around the world.
The English word kebab comes from the Arabic: كَبَاب (kabāb), partly through Urdu, Persian and Turkish. It may refer to a number of different kebab dishes made with roasted or grilled meat. Döner is a Turkish word, from dönmek (“to turn” or “to rotate”). It is sometimes spelled döner kebap, the Turkish spelling, and it literally means “rotating roast”. In English, it may also be spelled “doner”, “donar”, “donair” (in Canada) or sometimes “donner”. In German, it is spelled Döner Kebab, which can also be spelled Doener Kebab if the ö character is not available; the sandwich is often called ein Döner. Particularly in British English, a döner kebab sandwich may be referred to simply as “a kebab”. In Greece, it was originally called döner (Greek: ντονέρ) but later came to be known as gyros, from γύρος (“turn”), a calque of the Turkish name. The Arabic name شاورما (shāwarmā) derives from another Turkish word, çevirme, also meaning “turning”. Persians refer to it as “kebab torki”.
Döner in Turkey
There are many variations of döner in Turkey:
- Porsiyon (“portion”, döner on a slightly heated plate, sometimes with a few grilled peppers or broiled tomatoes on the side)
- Pilavüstü (“over rice”, döner served on a base of pilaf rice)
- Iskender (specialty of Bursa, served in an oblong plate, atop a base of thin pita, with a dash of pepper or tomato sauce and boiling fresh butter) “Kebapçi Iskender” is trademarked by Yavuz Iskenderoglu, whose family still runs the restaurant in Bursa.
- Dürüm, wrapped in a thin lavas that is sometimes also grilled after being rolled, to make it crispier. It has two main variants in mainland Turkey:
- Soslu dürüm or SSK (sos, sogan, kasar; in English: sauce, onion, cheese) (specialty of Ankara, contains Iskender kebap sauce, making it juicier)
- Kasarli dürüm döner (speciality of Istanbul, grated kasar cheese is put in the wrap which is then toasted to melt the cheese and crisp up the lavas)
- Tombik or gobit (literally “the chubby”, döner in a bun-shaped pita, with crispy crust and soft inside, and generally less meat than a dürüm)
- Ekmekarasi (“between bread”, generally the most filling version, consisting of a whole (or a half) regular Turkish bread filled with döner)
Caucasus, Middle East and Asia
In Armenia Garsi khorovats, šaurma or in the Armenian diaspora, “Tarna” (literally, “it turns”); it is usually lamb, pork or chicken on a vertical rotisserie, sliced and wrapped in lavas, served with tahini, yoghurt or garlic sauce and with a side dish of pickled vegetables or tourshi.
In Azerbaijan, döner kebab (Azerbaijani: dönər), served similarly to the European style of sandwich wrapped in lavas (flatbread) or in çörәk (bread, including tandoor bread), is one of the most widespread fast foods. It is usually made with әt (meat, essentially lamb or mutton), but sometimes toyuq (chicken).
In Japan, döner kebabs are now common, especially in Tokyo. They are predominantly made of chicken but occasionally beef, and called simply “kebab”. The toppings include shredded lettuce or cabbage, usually with a choice of sauces such as Thousand Islands, spicy, and garlic, and often sliced tomato.
Döner kebab is available throughout much of Seoul, particularly in the foreigner-dominated neighbourhood of Itaewon. There are two main varieties: the first, sold from street carts, is modified to suit Korean tastes, with chicken rather than lamb, shredded white cabbage, and honey mustard; the second is offered at permanent takeaways such as Ankara Picnic, Mr. Kebab, and Sultan Kebab, and features a lamb option along with more traditional sauces.
Döner kebab is increasingly becoming popular in Vietnam. Throughout Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City many döner kebab stalls can be found. Bánh mỳ Döner Kebab, the Vietnamese version of the döner kebab, has some fundamental differences with the original döner kebab. First of all, pork is used instead of beef and lamb. Second, the meat is served in a Vietnamese baguette. Thirdly, the meat is topped with sour vegetables and chili sauce.
Döner kebab shops can be found in all cities across Austria. Kebabs (often referred to as “Döner”) outsell burgers or the traditional Würstel (sausage).
Döner kebab restaurants and food stands can be found in almost all cities and smaller towns in Belgium, where they are known as dürüm when served in a wrap. The variety served is similar to that of Germany and the Netherlands. However, it is not uncommon to see döner served with French fries, often stuffed into the bread itself (similar to the German “Kebab mit Pommes”). Many different sauces are typically offered, including plain mayonnaise, aioli, cocktail sauce, sambal oelek or harissa paste, andalouse sauce, “américaine” sauce and tomato ketchup or curry ketchup. Another basic ingredient of the typical Belgian döner kebab is two or three green, spicy, Turkish peppers.
In Finland, döner kebabs have gained a lot of popularity since Turkish immigrants opened restaurants and imported their traditional food. Kebabs are generally regarded as fast food, often served in late-night restaurants also serving pizza, as well as shopping malls. There are over 1000 currently active restaurants that serve kebab foods in Finland, making one kebab restaurant for every 5000 people in mainland Finland.
Most kebab shops (themselves known simply as kebabs) are generally run by North African immigrants in France. The basic kebab consists of either “pain de maison” (Turkish soft bread) or “pain arabe” (unleavened flatbread) stuffed with grilled lamb shavings, onions and lettuce, with a choice of sauce from sauce blanche (yoghurt sauce with garlic and herbs), harissa (spicy red sauce originally from North Africa), ketchup, or several others. Kebabs are usually served with french fries, often stuffed into the bread itself. In Paris, this variation is called Sandwich grec (“Greek sandwich”). Other variations include beef, turkey, chicken, veal, and replacing the Turkish bread with pita bread or baguette.
Annual sales of döner kebabs in Germany amounted to €2.5 billion in 2010. Beef or veal, and chicken, are widely used instead of the more expensive lamb. Turkey (“Truthahn”) and vegetarian versions are becoming increasingly popular.
Tarkan Tasyumruk, president of the Association of Turkish Döner Producers in Europe (ATDID), provided information in 2010 that, every day, more than 400 tonnes of döner kebab meat is produced in Germany by around 350 firms. At the same ATDID fair, Tasyumruk stated that, “Annual sales in Germany amount to €2.5 billion. That shows we are one of the biggest fast-foods in Germany.” In many cities throughout Germany, döner kebabs are at least as popular as hamburgers or sausages, especially with young people.
In 2011 there were over 16,000 establishments selling döner kebabs in Germany, with yearly sales of €3.5 billion.
A Dönerschotel at a snack bar in the Netherlands: sliced “döner-style” grilled veal, French fries, and a simple salad.
Döner kebab is available in the Netherlands. As a snack, it is usually served in or with a pita as a “broodje döner” (döner sandwich) with lettuce, onion, tomato slices and sauces, mainly garlic and sambal. The Kapsalon, a dish made with döner meat, french fries, cheese, and salad, originated in Rotterdam.
Introduced by Turkish immigrants, the döner kebab with salad and sauce is a very popular dish in the United Kingdom, especially after a night out.
A variation known as “donair” was introduced in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada in the early 1970s. Peter Gamoulakos migrated to Canada in 1959. When he failed in his attempt to sell traditional gyros, Gamoulakos adapted the dish to local tastes. He substituted beef for lamb and created a sweet sauce known as “donair sauce”. Gamoulakos created the donair in 1973. In 2015 Halifax named donair the official food of the city.
Al pastor is a variation of döner kebab via Lebanese shawarma. Literally “in the style of the shepherd”, it references the lamb often used in shawarma, though it is normally made with pork.
With a multicultural population, the doner kebab in Australia competes with the Greek gyros and the Lebanese shawarma. Kebab sellers are subject to strict government food safety regulations.
Döner kebab is popular in many countries in the form of fast food, often as an end to a night out when preceded by the consumption of alcohol. Health concerns regarding döner kebab, including the hygiene involved in overnight storage and re-heating of partially cooked meat, its quality, as well as high salt, fat, and calorie levels, have been reported in the media. Lean meat, wholemeal bread, and salad, can be considered healthy eating choices, but large amounts of oil-based sauces, added salt, fatty meat, and overly large portions, may contribute to significant health risks.
Some investigations have found poor-quality ingredients in döner kebab meat, or meat types other than what was advertised. Food safety regulations in most countries address the dangers of bacteria in undercooked meat of all kinds, sold to the public. Some have guidelines specific to döner kebab handling and preparation. Following several outbreaks of E. coli food poisoning, the Canadian government in 2008 introduced a number of recommendations, including that the meat should be cooked a second time, after being sliced from the rotisserie