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Doner (Shawarma) Kebab

Doner-Kebab-Istanbul-Mediterranean

Doner kebab, or in short doner, is known almost all around the world. Sure, ingredients and sauces vary, and often it even comes under a different name. Shawarma, gyros, tacos al pastor, sufllaqe or kabab Torki are some of the derivations of it. But the doner basics remain the same: beaten pieces of meat are seasoned with suet, local herbs and spices, skewered on a spit and grilled vertically. Originally the meat used for doner kebab was lamb. Today, in Istanbul, it is made of a lamb and beef mixture, or even only beef.

The Origin of Doner Kebab

Most anthropologists claim that cooking fires started about 250.000 years ago, yet there isn’t any clear proof about the beginning of cooking in the history of mankind. Probably some kind of kebab has been consumed since the day mankind started using fire for cooking. In Sumerian, kabuba means to cook on ember and in Arabic, it means to fry meat. In the Turkish period, it gained today’s meaning: grilled or broiled meat on a (vertical) skewer or stick.

It is considered that kebabs come from an earlier time when Nomadic tribesmen grilled meat on their swords. In his 18th-century travel books, Ottoman traveler Evliya Çelebi mentions kebab as a horizontal stack of meat. In the 1860s Iskender Efendi from Bursa contributes to the kebab with a new angle – vertical grilling and serving it in thin slices. The doner kebab, which simply means rotating kebab, stands out as an innovation in the history of Turkish cuisine.

Famous Doner Dishes

The overview below is by no means a complete list of all doner dishes available. It’s just a sample of some you may want to try out during your stay. You can find these dishes all around the city, whether in a chic or a modest small restaurant.

  • Doner Kebab is served in various ways. The meat used can be lamb, lamb, and beef or chicken. In restaurants, it mostly comes on a plate with rice or fried potatoes, and salad on the side. Since it has recently become a fast-food dish too, you can also get it as a sandwich in between pide – pita-like traditional thick bread.
  • Doner Dürüm is another very delicious serving style of doner meat which is wrapped lavaş – tortilla-like thin loaves of bread. The accompanying ingredients like green salad, fried potatoes, pickles or hot tomato sauce are optional. So ask what you can have in the wrap and add or omit according to your taste. Sometimes dürüm is made by using grilled minced meat brochettes mounted on a wide skewer, again wrapped in lavaş. There is no better or worse, it is all about preference.
  • Iskender Kebab is the doner meat served on pieces of pide dressed with butter and yogurt on a side of the plate. If preferred, tomato sauce and extra butter can be used for dressing. It is also known as Bursa Kebabı. It’s one of my personal favorites.