Doner kebab

Doner kebab
Doner meat being sliced from a rotating spit in Istanbul (2012).
Course Snack or main course
Place of origin Turkey
Region or state Anatolia
Created by Ottomans (dates to 18th century)[1]
Serving temperature Hot
Main ingredients Lamb, beef or chicken
Variations İskender, Cağ
Cookbook: Doner kebab  Media: Doner kebab

Doner kebab (also döner kebab) (UK: /ˈdɒnər kɪˈbæb/, US: /ˈdnər kɪˈbɑːb/; Turkish: döner or döner kebap [døˈnɛɾ ˈcebɑp]) is a Turkish kebab, made of meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie.[2] 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. Originally invented in the 19th century Ottoman Empire, it inspired similar dishes such as the Arab shawarma, Greek gyros, and Mexican al pastor.[3]

The sliced meat of a doner 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 chili, and various types of sauces.


As mentioned in Ottoman travel books of the 18th century,[4] meat was cooked in a horizontal stack rather than vertical,[5] like the cağ kebab. 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.

The region of Anatolia is well-known for kebab dishes, and the town of Bursa is considered the birthplace of the vertically-roasted döner kebab.[6] 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,[5] though he might have been preceded by Hamdi Usta from Kastamonu around 1830.[7][8]

With time, the meat took a different marinade, got leaner, and eventually took its modern shape.[5] 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.[9] It has been sold in sandwich form in Istanbul since at least the mid-1960s.[10]

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,[11] while Greek-style doner kebab, also known as gyros, was already popular in Greece and New York City in 1971.[12][13]

In Germany, the döner kebab was popularized by Turkish guest workers in Berlin in the early 1970s.[14] The dish developed there from its original form into a distinctive style of sandwich 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.[15]


In the English name "doner kebab", the word doner is borrowed from the Turkish döner kebap, with the Turkish letter ö usually anglicized as "o", though "döner kebab" is an alternate spelling in English.[16][17] The word "kebab" is used, which comes to English 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. While kebab has been used in English since the late 17th century, doner/döner kebab is known only from the mid-20th or later.[16] The Turkish word döner comes from dönmek ("to turn" or "to rotate"), so the Turkish name döner kebap literally means "rotating roast".[18] 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". A Canadian variation is "donair". In Greek, it was originally called döner (Greek: ντονέρ) but later came to be known as gyros, from γύρος ("turn"), a calque of the Turkish name.[19] The Arabic name شاورما (shāwarmā) derives from another Turkish word, çevirme, also meaning "turning". Persians refer to it as "kebab torki".[20]

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)
  • İskender (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)[22] "Kebapçı İskender" is trademarked by Yavuz İskenderoğlu, whose family still runs the restaurant in Bursa.[23][24][25]
  • Dürüm, wrapped in a thin lavaş 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, soğan, kaşar; in English: sauce, onion, cheese) (specialty of Ankara, contains İskender kebap sauce, making it juicier)
    • Kaşarlı dürüm döner (speciality of Istanbul, grated kaşar cheese is put in the wrap which is then toasted to melt the cheese and crisp up the lavaş)
  • 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)
  • Ekmekarası ("between bread", generally the most filling version, consisting of a whole (or a half) regular Turkish bread filled with döner)

Regional variations

Caucasus, Middle East and Asia


In Azerbaijan, döner kebab (Azerbaijani: dönər), served similarly to the European style of sandwich wrapped in lavaş (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).[26][27][28]


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, sliced tomato, and usually a choice of sauces such as Thousand Islands, spicy, and garlic.[29]


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.[30][31]



Döner kebab shops can be found in all cities across Austria. Kebabs (often referred to as "Döner") outsell burgers or the traditional Würstel (sausage).[32]


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.[33] There are over 1000 currently active restaurants that serve kebab foods[34] in Finland, making one kebab restaurant for every 5000 people in mainland Finland.[35]


The basic kebab consists of bread stuffed with döner meat shavings, onions, and lettuce, with a choice of sauce including sauce blanche (yogurt sauce with garlic and herbs). Kebabs are usually served with french fries, often stuffed into the bread itself. In Paris, this variation is called Sandwich grec ("Greek sandwich").[36]


In Germany, the earliest claim to the introduction of Turkish döner kebab dates to 1969, when Bursa native Nevzat Salim and his father started to sell the Iskender Kebap in Reutlingen.[37] However, the Association of Turkish Döner Producers in Europe (ATDID) connects the wide popularization of the dish to the stand of Turkish guest worker Kadir Nurman at West Berlin's Zoo Station in 1972, which helped establish the döner kebab sandwich as a fast food option.[37][14] While the claims of multiple persons to have "invented" the döner may be hard to prove,[38] the further development of döner kebab is connected to the city of Berlin.

The döner kebap as it was first served in Berlin contained only meat, onions and a bit of salad.[39] Over time, it developed into a dish with abundant salad, vegetables, and a selection of sauces to choose from. Even orders placed in the Turkish language in Berlin will ask for the hot sauce using the German word "scharf", flagging the hybrid nature of the Berlin style of döner kebap.[40] This variation served with pita bread has influenced the style of döner kebap in Germany and in other nations. A 2007 survey showed that many people consider the döner kebab to be the most characteristic food of Berlin.[41]

Annual sales of döner kebabs in Germany amounted to €2.5 billion in 2010.[42] Beef or veal, and chicken, are widely used instead of the more expensive lamb. Turkey ("Truthahn") and vegetarian versions are becoming increasingly popular.

Tarkan Taşyumruk, 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, Taşyumruk 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.[42]

In 2011 there were over 16,000 establishments selling döner kebabs in Germany, with yearly sales of €3.5 billion.[43]


Kapsalon is a Dutch food item consisting of French fries topped with döner or shawarma meat, garlic sauce, and a layer of Gouda cheese, baked or broiled until melted, and then subsequently covered with a layer of dressed salad greens and more sauce. The dish is usually served as fast food in a disposable metal tray. The term kapsalon means "hairdressing salon" or "barbershop" in Dutch, alluding to hairdresser Nathaniel Gomes who originated the dish when he requested his local kebab shop in Rotterdam to prepare it for him.[44]

United Kingdom

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.[38]



A variation known as donair was introduced in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in the early 1970s.[45] Peter Gamoulakos started selling Greek-style gyros at Velos Pizza in the nearby village of Bedford, but soon adapted the customary recipe by using spiced ground beef, Lebanese flatbread, and inventing the distinctive sweet donair sauce made with condensed milk, vinegar, sugar, and garlic. He called it by the doner name rather than gyros, but it came to be pronounced, and spelled, as donair.[46][47][48] Gamoulakos in 1973 opened the first King of Donair restaurant on Quinpool Road in Halifax.[49] In 2015, Halifax named donair the city's official food.[50]


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.[51]

United States

There is evidence of Greek restaurants serving doner kebab by the original name, as well as by gyros, in the early 1970s.[52][13] It was also available, possibly later, in some Turkish restaurants.[53][54][55] In recent years a number of restaurants and food trucks specializing in döner kebab have opened in various parts of the country; a substantial percentage are owned by German immigrants.[56] Verts Mediterranean Grill, an Austin-based döner kebab chain with locations mainly in Texas, has become the second-largest döner kebab chain in the world.[57][58]



With a multicultural population, the doner kebab in Australia competes with the Greek gyros and the Lebanese shawarma.[59] Kebab sellers are subject to strict government food safety regulations.[60]

A halal snack pack is a dish that originated in Australia. It consists of halal-certified doner kebab meat, chips / french fries, and sauces such as chili, garlic and barbecue. It is traditionally served in a styrofoam container, and has been described as a staple dish of takeaway kebab shops in Australia.[61][62] The name of the dish was selected by the Macquarie Dictionary as the "People's choice Word of the Year" for 2016.[63]

Health concerns

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.[64][65][66] Some investigations have found poor-quality ingredients in döner kebab meat, or meat types other than what was advertised.[67][68] 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.[69] In Germany, any döner kebab meat placed onto the rotisserie must be sold the same day. It is a violation of health regulations to freeze partially-cooked meat for sale at a later date.[70]

See also


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Further reading

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