Turkey is famous for its wide variety of street food and we – along with many other blogs, guidebooks and other travel resources – love to sample and write about all the exciting bread snacks, pastries, seafood, meat, potato and vegetarian snacks that are available throughout the different regions and streets of Turkey. If you read this blog a lot, you’ll know a favourite of ours is the mackerel half-bread we ate in Karaköy fish market in Istanbul.
However, there is one staple street food that immediately jumps into people’s heads when someone mentions Turkey. Maybe you’re already thinking it yourself. It’s the doner kebab!
Before we had ever been to Turkey – ahh, those happy, carefree college and university alcohol-fuelled-kebab-eating weekend nights – I remember actually feeling sorry for Turkish people. The doner kebab was the extent of my knowledge of Turkish cuisine. It was something we ate at silly hours of the morning after a night out and we certainly never considered buying one in the daytime – not that any of the kebab places in our town opened in the daytime! Was this what Turkish people ate?
And then we came to Turkey. We were in for a necessary awakening. We needed to be taught a few lessons!
Lesson 1: A doner kebab is not a doner kebab. It’s a döner kebab (and if we really want to pick at the grammar, it’s actually a döner kebabı – but that’s for another time I hope I never subject you to!) The word döner refers to the rotating meat, not the snack you’re served at 3am on Sunday morning after a night on the town in Wigan or Hull. (1)
Lesson 2: Doner kebab meat (as it’s known in our part of England) does not exist in Turkey. Yes, there is rotating meat on a stick! How surprised we were in 1998 on our first visit to Fethiye when we discovered it actually was rotating chicken and rotating beef or lamb. It wasn’t grey/brown cereal, pulverised ‘meat’ and whatever else, all squished together in a mould.
Lesson 3: In Turkey, döner kebab is not the drunkard’s nosh. A döner kebab is a perfectly acceptable lunch or snack and, certainly in Fethiye, is highly unlikely to be available after about 10pm. Most of the kebapçiler (guys who run the kebab places) have special offers for school children and these places are packed with kids around lunchtime.
Lesson 4: We’ve already said, ‘doner kebab’ is not just meat-in-pita-bread drunken snack. Döner is the rotating meat on a spit. It’s possible to order döner as a meal: a plate of meat served on top of rice, for example. Döner is also used in one of my favourite Turkish dishes; Iskender Kebabı. The meat is served over pide bread with a tomato sauce (not ketchup!), yoghurt and then topped with hot, melted butter.
Final lesson: ‘Doner kebab ala England’ is a half-moon pita bread filled with ‘meat’ and salad. If you’re anything like we were, maybe you forego the salad and just ask for loads of extra chilli sauce instead – and regret it later! In Turkey, if you’re hoping for a good, street food snack and you fancy a doner kebab, you’re not going to get very far if you ask for a doner kebab. You either need a dürüm or a half-bread.
Now, it either depends on what mood we’re in, how hungry we are or which kebab place we’re in; sometimes, we opt for the dürüm (wrap) and other times, we opt for the yarım ekmek (half-bread). Both options are great choices for anyone in Fethiye on a budget and, whatever the price in the eatery is, the half bread usually comes in at around 1 lira cheaper the dürüm.
Whatever the situation, if both meats are available, we always go for a mixture of the two and, if we’re eating in the cafe, a plate of pickled vegetables and chillies. It makes all the difference.
(1) We’re born and bred Wiganers with a university education in the delightful (we mean that!) city of Hull.