Citizens! The Satrap of Sagaciousness – YOUR TFD! – has just embarked upon an 8 day, 4 country, 5 city business trip that will take me back to both the north and south of Germany, where the air is crisp, the people are bundled up and the lines for the country’s favorite street food streams like the mighty Rhine river for blocks in every direction!
Not only that, but there is one meal that unites all the countries I am visiting outside the U.S. – Germany, the UK, and Finland. Yea and verily, I speak of nothing less than Germany’s own döner kebab, a fusion of Turkish and German DNA that has resulted in a dish of unmatched savor and acclaim throughout all these countries and elsewhere!
Döner (properly pronounced ‘Dooner’ kebab) is a type of kebab, made of meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie. 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 into thin shavings as it cooks. The vertical rotisserie was invented in the 19th-century Ottoman Empire, and döner kebab inspired similar dishes such as the Arab shawarma, Greek gyros, and Mexican al pastor.
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 (literally meaning roll or wrap in Turkish).
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.
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.
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 worldwide prominence in the mid to late 20th century. The first döner kebab shop in London opened in 1966 and they were a familiar sight in provincial cities by the late 1970s, while Greek-style doner kebab, also known as gyros, was already popular in Greece and New York City in 1971.
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 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 alternative spelling in English. 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. The Turkish word döner comes from dönmek (“to turn” or “to rotate”), so the Turkish name döner kebap literally means “rotating roast”. 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.
It is in Germany, however that the modern döner kebab truly came into its own. 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.
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. While the claims of multiple persons to have ‘invented’ the döner may be hard to prove, 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. 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. 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.
Annual sales of döner kebabs in Germany amounted to €2.5 billion in 2010. 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.
In 2011 there were over 16,000 establishments selling döner kebabs in Germany, with yearly sales of €3.5 billion.
Citizens, I scoured the Net looking for an archetypal recipe for this delicious treat, but failed to find any single one that matched my needs and palate. So, I created my own, adapting parts or entire recipes to create my ultimate version. The bread recipe, for example is a superb one that I found on thisisimportant.net, and I have made zero changes to it.
In the USA, gyros and the like are almost always rolled in pita flatbreads. In Turkey and in Germany, a moister ‘pide’ bread with a more yeasty rise is used the sandwiches, they are also not rolled but instead the bread is cut in triangles and filled.The technique to make döner meat properly at home is cribbed from a recipe from the British newspaper The Guardian and the sauces were adapted from a few different sources.
I have of course made my own changes to most of these disparate recipes and they are noted in the text. I am supremely happy with my final version, and I have every confidence you will be as well! You can buy Salat Krönung 7 herbs vinaigrette mix here, and Aleppo chili flakes here.
Citizens, this is one impressive meal and is beloved throughout a far wider swath of the world than you might have ever imagined – please do consider adding this to your culinary repertoire with the greatest alacrity! 😀
Battle on – the Generalissimo
The Hirshon Berlin-Style Döner Kebab Sandwich
- Total Time: 0 hours
- Ingredients for Pide (Döner Kebab Bread):
- 2 tsp. (1 packet) dried yeast
- 1/2 tsp. sugar
- 1 cup lukewarm water
- 3 cup all purpose flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. plain yogurt
- Extra flour, to dust
- Extra olive oil, to grease
- 1 egg, lightly whisked
- 2 tsp. sesame seeds
- Ingredients for creamy garlic sauce (combine together, and salt and pepper to taste):
- 150 g (5 oz) Greek yogurt
- 150 g (5 oz) full-fat sour cream, TFD endorses only Daisy brand
- 100 g (1/2 c) mayonnaise, TFD endorses only Best Foods/Hellman’s brand or Duke’s brand
- 1 Tbsp. finely-grated onion
- 3 cloves finely-grated garlic
- 1 Tbsp. Salat Krönung dried herb mix from Knorr (TFD addition, not in original)
- Ingredients for red scharf (spicy) sauce:
- 6 red Fresno or red jalapeño peppers
- 1 lb. sweet red peppers
- 1 Tbsp. white vinegar
- Salt and sugar to taste
- Ingredients for Döner meat:
- 1 lb. lamb breast meat
- 100g breadcrumbs
- 7 1/2g kosher salt
- 2 1/2g freshly-ground cumin seeds
- 2 1/2g freshly-ground coriander seeds
- 2 finely-grated cloves garlic
- 1 coarsely-grated white onion
- 1 1/2 tsp. Aleppo chili flakes (TFD addition, not in original recipe)
- 1/2 tsp. freshly-ground clove (TFD addition, not in original recipe)
- 2 tsp. dried marjoram, rubbed between the palms (TFD addition, not in original recipe)
- Salt to taste
- An empty, clean 1 lb. can
- Other Ingredients:
- Sliced heirloom tomato, de-seeded
- Sliced purple onion (TFD preference, original was white onion)
- Grated white cabbage and thinly-sliced Asian cucumber (thinner and with no seeds, this was a TFD change from regular cukes) – marinate them both for 1 hour in some white wine vinegar, olive oil, a little sugar, salt and pepper
- Crumbled Bulgarian sheep milk feta cheese
- Some fresh mint leaves (TFD addition, not in original recipe)
- Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- To make the red scharf sauce:
- Clean the peppers by cutting off stems and de-seed them. Cut into pieces and cook them in one cup of water until soft. Blend the mixture (straining optional) with an immersion blender or food processor and add vinegar, plus salt & sugar to taste.
- To make the pide bread:
- Combine yeast, sugar and 2 T of the water in a small bowl, and stir until yeast dissolves. Set aside in a warm place for 10 minutes or until frothy.
- In a large bowl, sift flour and salt together. If you don’t have a flour sifter, you can just whisk them together.
- Make a well in the center of the flour and salt, and add the rest of the water, the oil, the yogurt, and the yeast mixture that you set aside.
- Stir together with a wooden spoon until combined, then use your hands to bring the dough together in the bowl.
- Put the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead it for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic.
- Lightly grease the inside of a large bowl with oil, then place the dough in the bowl and turn it to coat it with oil.
- Cover with a towel or plastic wrap, and set aside in a warm place for 2 hours (or until dough has doubled in size).
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Punch down the center of the dough with your fist. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes or until dough has returned to its original size. Divide the dough into 2 equal portions, and shape each portion into 7 inch by 12 inch rectangle.
- Place on 2 non-stick baking trays (or 2 cookie sheets that have been sprayed with cooking spray) and press with fingers to indent surface. Brush with egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
- Loosely cover the dough with plastic wrap and place in a warm place to rest for 20 minutes or until dough has risen half an inch or an inch.
- Shape the dough into rectangles (or as close as you can get), then cover with plastic wrap and let rise a bit longer.
- Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the base. I baked it for 7 minutes, then swapped the cookie sheets on the racks, then cooked it for another 7 minutes. I then lowered the oven temperature down to 350° to prep for the meat, and put the bread back in for 3-5 minutes.
- Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.
- After baking, sprinkle with some water, then cover with a clean kitchen towel until cooled down (it will help the loaf stay soft).
- To make the Döner meat:
- Cut the meat into 2cm squares, and pass the meat through a meat grinder using the coarse plate. Combine with remaining ingredients using a rubber spatula, spread on a baking sheet and place in the freezer until cold but not frozen.
- Pass the cold mix through the mincer again, this time on the finest plate, then form into patties. Line any clean 1lb can with two layers of clingfilm, then layer in the patties, squeezing them down to remove air gaps.
- Fold over the top edges of the cling film to seal, place the tin in a bain marie of boiling water and cook in the oven at a gentle 150C, until the temperature at the centre is 75C. Then allow to rest for at least 15 minutes before removing from the tin.
- Scorch the surface with a kitchen blowtorch before slicing vertically. A fork thrust into the top will stabilise the whole operation.
- For one sandwich, cut open ¼ of the pide bread to the outer edge, but not all the way through (warm for a couple of minutes on a panini grill if you have one), then open the ‘pocket’.
- Start by adding some white sauce on the bottom half, then the meat, then cucumber/cabbage, lettuce, tomato, onion, mint, and feta cheese. Put a bit of the red spicy sauce over it and enjoy.
- Prep Time: 0 hours
- Cook Time: 0 hours
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i had never run across a technique using cans to cook the meat in a pound tin, but it’s genius. i don’t own a kitchen torch, but i figure a quick blast in a hot pan with a smidgen of oil, rolling it to sear all sides, might answer?
can’t wait to try this! we love doner kebab, and have no place near us that offers it.
Citizen, I agree completely about the use of the can – the author who devised it has been eternally enshrined by Me in the pantheon of culinary Bodhisattva’s!
Hi. How many servings does this recipe provide.