Let’s Hear It For The Döner Kebab!

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!

Döner Kebab, Istanbul

A proud dönerci waits for his customers

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.

Chicken Doner Meat

Beginning of the day – tavuk döner in the making

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.

Döner Kebab, Meat And Chicken

Which is your favourite – meat or chicken?

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 our 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.

Döner Kebab Durum

Meat döner with cheese served in a dürüm (wrap)

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.

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  1. Those are some of favorites meats!!! I’m so hungry right now.

  2. I could eat one every day of the week but my favourite is doner and rice with a side serving of salad. I then chuck huge amounts of mayonnaise all over it.

  3. @ Belinda: We love kebabs, too. Döner is great isn’t it?

    @ Natalie: Mayonnaise? Each to their own, I guess! 🙂

  4. Honestly, when I first moved to Istanbul, I was so confused by all the different types and varieties for doner kebabs. It took me a whole month to get it right! Glad there’s a handy doner kebab guide now, thanks to you two!

  5. Ohh, this post makes me so hungry … for Turkey and their food 🙂


  6. This is a very informative post about döner! I love the lessons you counted above. Döner is one of the best Turkish fast foods! And I love to have it with ayran. Perfect lunch or dinner!
    People in Turkey generally have kokorec after drinking. Have you ever tried it?

  7. @ Connie: We were confused too; especially when we realised you could have tbe meat on a plate and in different guises.

    @ Hatidza: Sorry. 🙂

    @ Zerrin: Yes, we’ve had kokoreç a few times – and it’s usually been after a drink at night! 🙂 Döner is perfect lunchtime food.

  8. I love the doner – yum! – but really have trouble getting over the faux-meat they make it with in other parts of the world. I’m happy to hear that in Turkey they use the real stuff!

  9. @ Amy: If the meat isn’t real, we steer clear of them – unless we’ve been out for a drink that is! 🙂 We’ve seen some places here using the ‘faux-meat’ but you can really tell the difference in appearance.

  10. So good! I only know them from Germany, but they do seem pretty similar there. I love the dürüm with chicken.

  11. @ Sabrina: From what I’ve heard, the kebabs in Berlin especially, are fantastic. We were in Bremen a while back and they were pretty decent, too. Dürüm is fab isn’t it. we’re fans of the mixed. 🙂

  12. Anonymous says

    Turkish cuisine is my favorite one. The best döner i have tried was at Istanbulls Döner. I ordered iskender and meat balls. You can understand only after trying…

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