The History of Doner Kebab Shops in The World

kebab in history

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Kebab Shops Throughout History

Kebabs have been around for a long time now. Kebab shops might be one of the first fast food places in the world, although the status of fast food wasn’t granted to kebabs until about half a century ago.

Where doner kebabs are concerned, kebab shops aren’t just a food spot; they are an attraction. Doner kebabs are mostly sold by vendors, who display their vertical rotisserie and prepare a fresh serving from the cooked meat. Of course, kebab houses aren’t limited to semi-open shops. Restaurants specially dedicated to the art of doner kebabs are popular all around the world.

The Meaning of Doner Kebab

It might not come as a surprise, but the “doner kebab” in English comes from the Turkish ‘döner kebap’. The word “kebab” stems from Arabic kabāb and travels partly through Urdu, Persian, and Turkish. Kebab itself isn’t reserved for donors, although they seem to be the most popular kebabs that are referred to as such. The word may be used for many different kebab dishes made with roasted or grilled meat.

The Turkish word döner is derived from dönmek, which literally translates as “to turn” or “to rotate” in English. As the meat is turned on the rotisserie while it is cooked, the Turkish name döner kebap literally means “rotating roast”.

The Arabic name shāwarmā, which is another doner variation, is derived from another Turkish word, çevirme, which shares the same meaning of “turning”. In Persia, doner kebabs are referred to as “kebab torki” which just means “Turkish kebabs”.

Doner Kebabs in Europe

While the word kebab had already become common in English since the late 17th century, it wasn’t until the mid-20th century, and some time later, that doner kebab became known in much of the English and European world.

In German, it is spelled Döner Kebab, the most popular variant of the name, which is used in most parts of the world now. Germans call the sandwich ein Döner. Since kebabs weren’t the most popular dish in England, a döner kebab sandwich is simply known as “a kebab” in British English.

The Canadian variation of doner kebab is called “donair” and is essentially the same with a different marinade. In Greek, doner kebabs were originally called by their Turkish name but later came to be known as gyros, from γύρος, which literally translates to “turn” in English and is a loan translation from the Turkish name.

The presence of different names in different countries isn’t just for the sake of localising names. These names came about because of the kebab shops that were being set up in these countries and getting popular. Doner kebabs indeed travelled the entire world at one point and established their prominence in every country with every kebab shop that was built there.

Doner Kebabs in History

The beginning of doner kebab and subsequently kebab shops can be marked by the beginning of the vertical rotisserie, which was invented in the 19th-century Ottoman Empire. According to the records, stacks of seasoned sliced meat were cooked on horizontal rotisseries in the Ottoman Empire, at least as far back as the 17th century.

The problem with the horizontal rotisserie is that the fat melts off of the meat and drips down on the cooking fire. This problem was solved when the vertical rotisserie was introduced, some time in the mid-19th century. It is believed that the beginning of doner kebabs on vertical rotisserie took place in the town of Bursa, in modern-day Turkey.

In the early 1900s, doner kebab had travelled overseas, and by at least the 1930s, it was being sold in kebab shops and restaurants in Mexico by Lebanese immigrants. That places the arrival of Doner Kebab in Greece in the 1920s.

Popularity of Doner Kebab

Despite the fact that doner kebabs have their origins in the Ottoman Empire, it took a whole century before they were introduced and popularised in Istanbul by Beyti Güler. Soon after opening his kebab house in 1945, Beyti was discovered by journalists. He then began serving döner and other kebab dishes to kings, prime ministers, film stars, and celebrities.

The sandwich variant of doner kebabs has been sold in Istanbul since at least the mid-1960s.

As for the modern sandwich variant of döner kebab, it originated in the 1970s and was popularised in West Berlin by Turkish immigrants. In fact, Berlin has more doner kebab shops now than any Turkish city.

In the early 1970s, Kadir Nurman introduced the sandwich or wrap form as we know it today. Now it is simply referred to as “kebab”, and has become a popular fast food dish sold by kebab shops around the world.

Doner Kebab as Fast Food

The concept of döner kebab as “fast food” came to worldwide prominence in the mid- to late 20th century when it started being sold as a sandwich. In 1966, London became home to the first doner kebab shop in England, and by the late 1970s, they were a familiar sight in provincial cities.

Germany, which now has the most doner kebab shops in the world, came across this fast food in the early 1970s. It was popularised by Turkish guest workers in Berlin. Here, the classic doner kebab evolved and developed from its original form into a distinctive style of sandwich. Accompaniments such as salad, vegetables, and sauces were sold in large portions at affordable prices at kebab shops.

Doner kebab would soon go on to become one of the top-selling fast food and street food dishes in Germany and much of Europe. And thus, doner kebab shops became essential in many markets and streets around the world.

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