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Doner kebab facts for kids

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Döner served at a restaurant in Ankara, Turkey.
Dürüm Döner
A "dürüm döner" wrapped in lavaş flat bread.

The doner kebab (or from Turkish Döner kebab, but seldom döner) is a Turkish dish. A Doner can be made from lamb, chicken or beef. It is cooked on a vertical rotisserie then thinly sliced. When bought from kebab shops it usually comes with salad or french fries.

Traditionally Turkish restaurants offer hot chili sauce and garlic yoghurt-style sauce. Barbecue sauce, burger sauce, lemon juice, or a mint sauce similar to raita are also popular.

Doners are often eaten as take-away food on the way home after a night out. There are several common ways in which doner kebabs are served.

  • Wrapped in pita bread (the most common)
  • On pita bread
  • Served as a dish of "doner meat" (and maybe chips), typically including salad
  • Often preferred to be garnished with a range of sauces such as tomato ketchup, mayonnaise, chili sauce, mint or garlic sauce.

Despite its Turkish origin Döner is very popular in Germany. The Döner was introduced to the Germans in the 1970s.


Earlier method of horizontal cooking, here used with Cağ kebabı
Dönerci, 1855
The earliest known photo of döner, by James Robertson, 1855, Ottoman Empire

In the Ottoman Empire, at least as far back as the 17th century, stacks of seasoned sliced meat were cooked on a horizontal rotisserie, similar to the cağ kebab. The vertical rotisserie was introduced no later than the mid-19th century. The town of Bursa, in modern-day Turkey, is often considered the birthplace of the vertically roasted döner kebab. According to Yavuz İskenderoğlu, his grandfather İskender Efendi as a child in 1850s Bursa had the idea of roasting the lamb at his father's restaurant vertically rather than horizontally; it was a success, and some years later became known as döner kebap. However, he may have been preceded by Hamdi Usta from Kastamonu around 1830.

An Arab version became known as shawarma. By at least the 1930s it had been brought overseas, and was sold in restaurants in Mexico by Lebanese immigrants. Doner kebab likely arrived in Greece in the 1920s with the population exchange between Greece and Turkey, later transforming into gyros.

It was not until a century after its invention 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 served in a sandwich form as "fast food" came to worldwide prominence in the mid to late 20th century. The first doner kebab shop in London opened in 1966 and they were a familiar sight in provincial cities by the late 1970s, while gyros was already popular in Greece and New York City in 1971. A Greek-Canadian variation, the donair, was introduced in 1972, eventually becoming the official food of Halifax, and spreading across the country. By the 1960s, the taco al pastor in Mexico had evolved from the shawarma.

In Germany, the döner kebab was popularized by Turkish guest workers in Berlin in the early 1970s. 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.

In the UK

Döner is not considered a "kebap" in Turkey. The various döner dishes, including iskender are listed on a separate page in the menu of a Turkish restaurant in Ankara. The "kebap" dishes have a separate page.

Kebabs are very much part of the Friday and Saturday night culture in the UK rather than breakfast or lunchtime food. UK doner kebab often uses a different mixture of spices, because immigrants from Northern Cyprus run many of the shops. They may offer doner, shish (lamb and chicken) and kofte kebabs, with a 'special' including some of each with bread and chips.

In Canada

King of Donairs
A King of Donair outlet in Halifax at Pizza Corner

A variation known as donair was introduced in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in the early 1970s. There are competing claims about the origin, but according to Halifax resident Leo Gamoulakos, his father, Greek immigrant Peter Gamoulakos, started selling Greek-style gyros at Velos Pizza in the Halifax suburb of Bedford. It did not catch on with the public, so in 1972 he modified the customary pork and lamb 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. In 1973 Gamoulakos opened the first King of Donair restaurant on Quinpool Road in Halifax. In 2015, Halifax named donair the city's official food. Historically found only in Atlantic Canada, the dish's popularity has expanded to other parts of Canada.

In the United States

Doner kebab is best known in the United States in its Greek variation, now known as gyros. Numerous people have made competing claims to have introduced the dish sometime in the 1960s, and its mass-production in the 1970s. Originally known in Greece as ντονέρ (doner), by 1970 in the United States the newly coined name gyros was commonly in use, though it was still known in some Greek restaurants by both names into the 1970s. It was also available, possibly later, in some Turkish restaurants. 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.

In Australia

Halal Snack Packs
Halal snack packs in Sydney, Australia

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.

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. The name of the dish was selected by the Macquarie Dictionary as the "People's choice Word of the Year" for 2016.

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. Some investigations have found poor-quality ingredients in döner kebab meat, or meat types other than what was advertised. Food safety regulations in most developed 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. 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.

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