In this dish the meat from the leg of lamb was cut into thin strips (slices), placed
on a spit and grilled over a charcoal fire.
In the mid-19th Century, as the story goes, a cook named Hamdi Usta in the northern Anatolian state of Kastamonu had the idea to try something new: he literally upended the spit and began to grill marinated strips (slices), from the traditional lamb roast on a vertical spit, selling the meat in individual portions in the market. At about the same time, said to be unconnected to this development, another cook living about 540 kilometers to the west in Bursa had the same idea. He was İskender Efendi, known today as the creator of the doner kebab by that name and the one we have to thank for yet another doner kebab variant: the İskender kebab, featuring thin strips from the doner spit served over small pieces of pita that have been lightly sautéed in butter. The dish is topped with a tomato-and-pepper paste sauce and a dollop of yoghurt.
The doner kebab set out from Bursa and began its world travels. Today, over 150 years later, it is Germany’s most popular fast food.
„Einmal Döner mit scharfer Soße, bitte.“ Was uns so selbstverständlich erscheint, hat im Grunde nichts mit der traditionellen Döner-Esskultur zu tun. Denn beim Döner Kebab handelt es sich ursprünglich um ein reines Tellergericht, das klassischerweise mit Reis und Gemüsebeilage serviert wird.
According to the European Society of Turkish Doner Producers,
the Turkish guest worker Kadir Nurman (died 2011, may God
rest his soul) deserves the credit for turning the doner kebab
into a culinary success.
In 1972, inspired by the fast-food wave sweeping over Germany, Nurman simply
stuffed the pieces of grilled meat into the pita and began to sell the dish as a snack from his stand at the zoo across from Berlin’s Tiergarten railway station. Within a short time, it had gained enormous popularity and inspired imitators across the
What makes the doner kebab so special
Many dishes, like sushi or pasta, can be prepared at home using the proper
ingredients. This is not the case with doner kebab, however. The complicated
preparation demands the best meat, sound marinating knowledge and manual
dexterity as well as special grilling equipment and cooking utensils that can scarcely
be found in a regular kitchen.
In contrast to other rotisserie variants, however, the doner spit does not turn
constantly in front of the flame but is instead rotated only when the side facing the flame is fully grilled. The thin strips of meat are then sliced “fresh from the spit” onto the plate or into a pita, making for a meaty experience that brings joy to
young and old.