At a first glance, the Doner Kebab, Gyros and Shawarma look like the same thing. The meat is shaved from a vertical rotisserie, wrapped in bread, and topped with veggies. But despite the fact that these meat snacks seem so similar, they are quite different, especially in terms of meat, herbs, bread, toppings, and sauces.
Historically, the doner kebab can be considered the ancestor of the gyros and shawarma. Shaved from a large meat cone that slowly turns and roasts all day, this meat was very popular in the Ottoman Empire (also Turkish Empire, 1299 – 1923). Before gaining independence in 1832, Greece was part of this empire – just as various parts of the Arab world. And, eventually, the doner kebab meat made its way to the greek cuisine as the “gyros” – the Greek word for “turn”.
Likewise, the doner kebab meat spread throughout the Middle East where it was named “Shawarma”, an Arabic word for “turning”. Over time, all of these meat dishes developed according to their cultural environment and the people around. Today, they are quite distinctive street food items. But apart from their history, what exactly is the difference between the doner kebab, gyros and shawarma? Here comes a quick overview to answer that question:
Origin of today’s popular version: Germany
Backstory: At the beginning of the 1970s, the Turkish doner was introduced to Germany where it was slightly modified. It was Kadir Nurman, a Turkish immigrant, who invented the German döner kebab, as we know it today.
Kadir was the owner of a restaurant near the Zoologischer Garten train station, a main transport hub in West Berlin. He was the first to notice how workers craved something savory to eat on the go. Consequently, he wrapped his döner meat in German pita bread to make it portable. He added some toppings and created various sauces. And that’s how the German doner kebab was born.
Meat: Veal or chicken
Bread: Pita bread
Toppings: White onions, iceberg lettuce, red cabbage and tomatoes. Some restaurants offer feta cheese, jalapeño, pickles and/or ezme as well.
Sauce: Garlic mayo, spicy ketchup, mayo herbs, or tzatziki sauce.
Meat: Usually a combination of lamb and beef. The meat is seasoned with a variety of rather typical Mediterranean herbs, such as oregano, majoram, thyme and rosemary.
Bread: Pita bread
Toppings: Tomatoes, onions, and red cabbage
Sauce: Tzatziki sauce (a cold sauce made of yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, salt, olive oil, and other ingredients depending on the recipe) with a little hot sauce.
Origin: Middle East
Meat: Lamb, beef or chicken. The meat is usually marinated for as long as a day in a variety of seasonings and spices, like cloves, bay leaves, turmeric, cinnamon, dried lime, vinegar, coriander seed, and cardamom.
Bread: Flat bread or pita bread
Toppings: Tabbouleh, fattoush, cucumber, fries, and hummus
Sauce: Tahini sauce (sesame based sauce)