Top 12 Doner Kebab Variations

top kebabs in the world

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Doner kebabs are one of the most popular kinds of kebabs, eaten all around the world. Doner kebabs are usually made of lamb meat that is cooked on a vertical rotisserie. Before being cooked, the meat is seasoned and then stacked in the shape of an inverted cone. The cone is then turned slowly on the rotisserie. You may have seen some stands selling doner kebabs nearby.

Doner kebabs are popularly sold by open shops and vendors, who place the rotisserie next to a vertical cooking element. The meat is sliced thin with a knife, and the shavings from the outer layer of the cooked meat are then served with pita bread, sandwiched in flatbread, and various other accompaniments.

Doner kebabs come in many variations. The reason there are so many different ways to serve and eat doner kebabs has something to do with their history. Now let us look at a list of the best doner kebab variants that you can find near you.

Top 12 Doner Kebab Variants

Let us take a closer look now at all the doner kebab variants in Turkey and the rest of the world. Note that this isn’t a ranked list, and we only mention the top variants known around the world without any ranking order.

1. Porsiyon

Translated as ‘portion’ in English, this doner kebab dish is one of the simplest kinds you might be able to find near you. This doner kebab variant is served on a slightly heated plate. The star of this dish is the kebab meat itself. It is served with grilled peppers and broiled tomatoes, which add a certain umami to the dish as a whole.

Being a popular variant in Turkey and much of Europe, you might be able to find this doner kebab nearby. It might not have the same name, but it won’t be too hard to spot.

2. Pilavüstü

Translated in English as ‘over rice’, this particular Doner Kebab variant is not just a snack; it’s a whole meal on its own.

The rice that is served with kebab meat in this doner kebab variant is pilaf. Pilaf is a popular rice dish that involves cooking rice in broth, stock, or bouillon. Pilaf is made by adding spices and other ingredients, such as vegetables or meat. In the case of this doner kebab variant, instead of adding meat while making the pilaf, it is simply served on top of the rice.

Rice isn’t a very popular meal in Europe, so your best bet to find this doner kebab nearby is to look for a traditional restaurant that specifically covers this cuisine.

3. İskender

This kebab doner variant is a specialty of Bursa, where it is served on an oblong plate. Traditionally, it is served on top of a base made of pide, which is a thin flatbread quite similar to pita bread. Garnish and dressing include a dash of pepper or tomato sauce along with some boiling fresh sheep’s milk butter and yoghurt.

The name of the kebab comes from its inventor, İskender Efendi. He lived in Bursa in the Ottoman Empire during the late 19th century.

Currently, this doner kebab variant is attributed to a restaurant called “Kebapçı İskender”, which is trademarked by Yavuz İskenderoğlu. The family still runs the restaurant in Bursa, which is quite popular.

Although the doner kebab variant in Bursa is in a league of its own, you can easily find this doner kebab nearby as it’s a popular one.

4. Dürüm

4. Dürüm

This variant is excessively popular around the world, and you’ll easily be able to find this doner kebab nearby. It is made by wrapping the kebab meat in a thin lavaş. Lavash, or lavaş, is leavened bread that is baked in a large urn-shaped oven called a tandoor. A tandoor can be replaced by a griddle or wok, but tandoor is the traditional way of making it.

After wrapping the kebab meat in lavaş, it is sometimes grilled again, which makes it a lot crispier. In fact, this crispiness is what makes this doner kebab variant such a popular option among kebab enthusiasts.

5. Soslu Dürüm

Also known as SSK, this doner kebab dish is a variation of the classic dürüm kebab. SSK stands for sos, soğan, kaşar, which translates to sauce, onion, and cheese in English.

This doner kebab variant is a specialty of Ankara but quite popular in the rest of Europe as well. What makes this kebab different from the classic one is that it contains İskender kebab sauce, which makes it juicier than a normal dürüm kebab.

İskender kebab sauce is composed of a hot tomato sauce and a generous slathering of melted special sheep’s milk butter and yoghurt.

6. Kaşarlı Dürüm

Another variant of the classic dürüm kebab, this doner kebab dish is a specialty of Istanbul. It is made with grated kaşar cheese, which is put in with the kebab meat as it is wrapped in lavaş. Once wrapped, it is then toasted to melt the cheese and crisp up the lavaş.

This doner kebab dish is a mouthwatering variant and is increasingly popular in Europe. If you find a dürüm doner kebab nearby, chances are you’ll find this version. Cheese types might differ from place to place. A mix of different cheeses is also used to make this kebab dish. Being one of the most popular options, it is easy to find this doner kebab nearby.

7. Tombik or gobit

Translated literally in English, it says “the chubby”. This döner kebab variant includes kebab meat in a bun-shaped pita. What makes this one so popular is its texture, as it has a crispy crust and a soft inside.

Compared to a dürüm, this doner kebab dish generally has less meat. The closest, simpler variation might be a meat bun. However, meat buns usually don’t have crispy crusts, so a tombik is an upgraded, doner kebab version of a meat bun.

Since they are closely related to meat buns, they’ve been a popular option all around the world. So you won’t have much trouble finding this doner kebab nearby. Any doner kebab that sells in your area is likely to carry this doner kebab on their menu.

8. Ekmekarası

Translated literally in English as “between bread”, this doner kebab variant is a meal on its own and a heavy one at that. This doner kebab is usually big in size and generally the most filling version. It consists of a whole or a half of regular Turkish bread that is filled with doner meat.

Various sauces and spices may be used as the dressing. Some vegetables and shredded salad might also be served as accompaniments or dressings. Since bread is popular in Europe, if you know a place that sells doner kebab nearby, chances are they carry this doner kebab dish.

9. Gyros

Gyros is a Greek version of doner kebab. Its name comes from the Greek γύρος, which means ‘circle’ or ‘turn’. It is a loan translation from the Turkish word döner, from dönmek, which has the same meaning.

Like doner kebab, gyros is made by cooking meat on a vertical rotisserie. It is then sliced and wrapped or stuffed in pita bread before being served. Other ingredients used to make gyros include tomato, onion, fried potatoes, and tzatziki. Pork is the popular meat type used to make gyros in Greece. Chicken is another option, though not quite as popular as pork.

In other countries, beef and lamb are the popular options since the classic doner is made of lamb meat as well, and gyros is considered a doner kebab variant.

10. Shawarma

Shawarma is Arabic for ‘turning’, the same meaning as doner. It is a popular Middle Eastern dish that originated in the Ottoman Empire. Just like the doner, it consists of meat cut into thin slices and stacked in an inverted cone before being roasted on a slowly turning vertical rotisserie or spit.

Shawarma is traditionally made with lamb or mutton, common options for doner kebabs. It may also be made with chicken, turkey, beef, or veal in some places. What makes it different from the classic doner are the spices used during marination.

The spices that are commonly used to make this doner kebab may include cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric or paprika, and baharat, and more, depending on where it is made. Like dürüm kebabs, this doner kebab variant is commonly served as a sandwich or wrap on a flatbread such as pita or laffa, which is Iraqi pita bread. In the Middle East, chicken shawarma is the most popular option, and it is typically served with garlic sauce, fries, and pickles. Depending on the type of meat that is used to make this kebab, the garlic sauce may be served in a number of ways.

Shawarma itself has many variations in the Middle East. It is popular all around the world, and it is hard to miss this doner kebab if it’s nearby.

One example is Bahrain, where there is a popular variant of the shawarma known as a malgoum. It is just like the classic shawarma, but it is served with French fries and cheese, a popular option in Europe too.

11. Al Pastor

This Mexican doner kebab is based on the same methods of preparation as shawarma. Lamb meat was the preferred meat in al pastor until it was replaced by pork in the 1920s. The spices used to marinate and prepare al pastor feature a flavour palate that uses traditional Mexican adobada.

Al pastor means shepherd style. As the dish was brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants, its name was associated with them, in that the Lebanese were mainly Christians and shepherds by profession.

Traditionally, al pastor is made just like doner kebabs. Instead of lamb meat, pork is marinated in a combination of dried chilies, spices, pineapple, and achiote paste, which is a typical Mexican spice. The meat is then slowly cooked, just like doner kebabs, with charcoal or gas flames on a vertical rotisserie called a trompo, which translates to  ’spinning top’ in English. Once the outside is browned, the meat is shaved off and made into tacos. 

It is served with optional condiments such as lemon, lime, salsa, and some diced vegetables. Al Pastor is popular in America too, and you can find this kebab doner very easily.

12. Donair

Based on the doner kebab, another variant that originated in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is the Canadian donair. You can easily find this doner kebab nearby.

Just like the doner kebab, the meat used in donair is made with spiced beef or lamb that is spit-roasted before being sliced into thin strips.

This meat is then sandwiched in a pita round along with tomato, onion, and a sweet, tangy sauce made of condensed milk, sugar, and vinegar. It is common to see toppings such as shredded mozzarella cheese added while serving the donair kebab.

A special donair sauce is a garlicky and sweet sauce that is often used as a dipping sauce for not just the donair kebab but also pizza crusts and bread.

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