Döner Kebab

Everyone has a different taste, yet sometimes some dishes tend to be more liked among individuals, and döner kebab is one of those tastes. Beautiful in all shapes and sizes, döner kebab, also as known as döner, is a famous Turkish dish that has tons of fans all around the world. If you have never tried döner kebab out, you do not have any idea about what you are missing, but it is always better late than never, right?

You will find answers to your questions about döner kebab in this comprehensive article that answers the questions of ‘’how is döner made?’’, ‘’what is the etymology of döner?’’, ‘’what to drink with döner kebab?’’ and much more!

What is döner kebab?

Döner kebab is a dish that particularly famous in Turkey, that could be prepared with veal or lamb or a mixture of them. There are also variations that are prepared with chicken.

Döner must include a maximum of 25% fat by mass, and a maximum of 2% salt by mass. Also, there are different kinds of döner kebab according to the shape of it.

Doner Sandwich
Doner Sandwich

Suet and special spices are a must for döner kebab. It is commonly consumed inside of various bread yet there are numerous ways to prepare it. It also gets different names according to how it has been prepared.

Etymology, origin, and history of döner

The word “kebab” is way too older than the word “döner”. The word kebab’s origin is Arabic, from a word called “kabāb (كباب) “which translated as fried meat or broiled food. This Arabic word is originating from a Syriac word “kbaba”, which has the exact same translation as the Arabic word kebab.

“Döner” is used after approximately in the middle of the 20th century. The word döner comes from the Turkish verb “dönmek”, which means to rotate in English. The word was transformed as döner from dönmek in a form of participle adjective. Döner word comes from the verb to rotate because, in the cooking process of the döner, döner is constantly being rotated in a döner skewer in order to be cook equally in every part.

Different sources state different information about who invented döner. Some say that döner was invented by a chef from Kastamonu, Master Chef (‘’usta’’ in Turkish) Hamdi. According to some other sources, döner was invented by Iskender Bey in Bursa. It is also believed that döner kebab was inspired by Erzurum’s traditional food “cağ kebab”. But in Evliya Çelebi’s itinerary book, it can be inferred that döner kebab might be originated in Crimea. It is also similar to an Arabic dish, shawarma.

Cag Kebabi
Cag Kebabi

The question of when was döner kebab made first remains a mystery, but the oldest evidence we have is a picture that was taken by James Robertson, in Ottoman-dominated Istanbul at that time, in the year 1855. Döner was initially being prepared in a horizontal skewer until the end of the 1850s. It was not always this popular of course, it is not started to being recognized and loved in Istanbul, until approximately a century after it was invented. This popularization has happened with an opening of a specific döner kebab restaurant in Istanbul.

The worldwide popularization of döner kebab did not happen until the end of the 20th century. After that period, döner kebab has started to be popular worldwide in a form of fast-food sandwiches. It inspired so many other countries to create a similar dish. Nowadays you can find döner kebab pretty much anywhere around the world if you know where to look.

Döner in Turkish cuisine

Döner is tasty whether if you are eating it as a quick meal in your lunch break or if you are enjoying it in a restaurant with your friends. It is preferred to be eaten with various drinks, and there is not the right way to consume döner but there are popular ways to consume it.

Döner-ayran duo is very popular in Turkey. In fact, döner and ayran together are inseparable for some. Döner wrap and ayran is all the vogue especially among students since it is cheap, tasty, and fulling. Students prefer döner-ayran in their lunchbreaks most of the time. But since ayran has a fame for making you sleepy after you drink it, and as students need to focus on their work afterward, sodas are also preferred. Another beverage that is popular to consume with döner is turnip, which is especially popular in Adana.

Döner and rice is another inseparable duo for some. Some prefer to put döner above the rice, some prefer to consume it next to it, but a lot of people state that this duo is quite delicious. If it is served with rice, they usually bring salad or yogurt next to it. Yogurt is also being consumed with döner, and with the greasiness of döner, cold yogurt feels really good. There are also different kinds of yogurt that you can choose from to eat with your döner.

Doner with rice
Doner with rice

Döner is usually served with tiny hot pepper pickles. Keep in mind that those pickles are way hotter than they seem. If you are not used to consuming hot and spicy food, you may have some digestion problems afterward. But if you are used to it, then it goes very well with döner. If you do not want hot pickles, then regular gherkin pickles are also going very well with döner.

Döner variations in Turkish cuisine

There are different ways to serve and consume döner in Turkey, and all of them are delicious. The most preferred one is döner wrap, which can be made with the bread of your choice that includes lavash, loaf, milk bread, pita bread. Some döners take its name from the type of bread that it is made with. For example, there is a döner called podgy döner because of how the kind of pita bread they use is podgy. Also, in döner wrap, there are other ingredients such as french fries, lettuce salad, tomatoes, ketchup, and mayonnaise. You can include or exclude those ingredients according to your taste.

Sometimes it is also made in a form of a sandwich. Inside of sandwich bread, you need to put döner of your choice and you may also add the ingredients that it has been being put into the döner wraps. Different kinds of sauces that you like also fit in.

Another variation of döner is döner on rice. As you can infer from its name, this variation is characterized by sliced döner pieces on top of rice. It is usually served with a piece of lavash bread, tomatoes, pickles, French fries, some greens, and sometimes with a salad. If you are enjoying your döner on rice in a restaurant, they will be most probably pouring butter on top of your döner after they serve it to you.

An important and loved variation is, “iskender”. Even though it is the same product as döner, the reason why it has a different name is because of the serving method. “Iskender” is put on bread, with yogurt next to it. And afterward, tomato sauce and butter are poured above it. Also, the meat they use to make “iskender” is special. It is particularly from ram meat, and those rams are fed with Uludağ thyme. It is relatively a bourgeois dish in comparison to döner kebap.

Iskender Kebab
Iskender Kebab

Day after that, numerous döner variations are being done. You can use your imagination when it comes to döner and put it in a dish that you think will fit. For example, döner is also made in the oven with mashed potatoes and/or cheese. Chicken döner with soy sauce, cannelloni with döner, döner canapé, turkey döner with yogurt, and sausage döner, which is a type of döner that is from the Afyonkarahisar region are some of the interesting variations of döner. And there is even a variation of döner in which döner is being put into pizza.

How is döner made?

Döner is usually made with tranche part of veal leg if it is a meat döner because the best döner comes out of here. Sliced like a leaf shape, döner needs to wait overnight in a mixture of milk, onion water, oil, black pepper, and different kinds of spices. Then this marinated meat being put to the döner skewer tightly. After that, the skewer needs to be in front of a fire in order to be cooked. As the oily waters from the döner drop down, from time to time it needed to be spread to döner back. After it has cooked, there are special knives for döner to cut döner, which are really long. Someone who knows how to cut a döner needs to cut it in form of very thin pieces. Then döner is served as wished.

Additionally, döner can be made in your home. Yet since not everyone has the equipment to make döner at home, you need to slice it before you cook it. You need to first lay your meat inside of a mixture that is composed of milk, oil, spices, salt, and pepper for 12 to 24 hours. After that, you need to put that meat in the freezer for another minimum of 2 hours. After it gets really solid, you can cut it in the form of thin slices. Later it is just left to cook in an oiled pan and to serve as you wish.

Different kinds of döner

There are different kinds of döner according to how it is introduced to the market. One of them is leaf döner, and it takes its name from its being thin as a leaf. In its production, only raw meat is used. Another one is ground meat döner and it is composed of at least %90 ground meat and 10% raw leaf-shaped meat. A mixed döner is a mixture of at least 60% raw leaf-shaped meat and a maximum 40% of ground meat. 

Also, a similar classification is present in döner made with chicken. In the chicken döner, the maximum fat mass should be 15% and the salt mass should be a maximum of 2%. Starch, starch related products, non-animal protein, soy, and soy products should not be in chicken döner. Yet in spices, that non-animal protein is okay if it is not passing 1% by mass. 

Chicken Döner
Chicken Döner

The shelf life of the döner is 24 hours including cooking time. If it is frozen, it could be used for up to 6 months. This is valid for all kinds of döner.

Döner-like dishes around the world

Since döner become popular all around the world, some countries started to produce different variations according to the country’s taste, under different names. Some completely changed the name and launched it as a separate dish, some just created a different serving method.

In Pakistan, a döner-like dish is from the Karachi region and it is pretty much the same as döner kebab – just a lot spicier. In Mexico, it is called tacos arabes and usually served in a piece of tortilla bread with lettuce. Churrasco grego is the Brazilian name for döner’s different variations and it is very popular in Brazil. It includes a special sweet and sour sauce called “vinaigrette” and is served with salsa sauce.

In some countries, döner is not named differently but served differently from how it is being served in Turkey. For example, in Russia, döner is known to be served with mustard. In Austria, it is served with hummus, chili sauce, garlic sauce, and barbeque sauce. You can observe a similar serving in Japan with garlic and chili sauce, but with an addition of cabbage. In India, it is served with beet, carrot, and chili sauce.

Turkey’s döner map

Döner is not made the same in every region of Turkey, of course. As in general cuisine distribution, warm regions prefer it lean whereas colder regions prefer it sebaceous. For example, in Bodrum, usually light meals are preferred. This is why Bodrum döner is characterized by having vegetables instead of being greasy. On the east side, on the contrary, döner is pretty greasy. This could be explained by the body’s fat restoring needs being changed according to the weather.

İsmail Çamönü

Hi! I am Ismail. I am a digital nomad from Turkey. I lived in many cities around Turkey during my life and I am passionate about traveling. At Nomad's Guide to Turkey, I share travel tips for nomads, expats, and tourists who would like to visit Turkey.

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