Travel Inspiration: Turkish Döner Kebab in Germany

Travel Inspiration: Turkish Döner Kebab in Germany

Joanna Miller
Jul 15, 2009

In Berlin, I fell in love with the Turkish döner kebab at a little takeout place near my hotel. Similar to a gyro, these overflowing sandwiches were topped with all sorts of salads, fresh vegetables and sauces and served on a warm, crispy flatbread. I've never found anything quite like it in the U.S., but I've got some ideas for a homemade version that incorporates some of my favorite elements.

At the end of my junior year of college, I took a short study trip to Germany and spent most of the time in Berlin. During the day, our group kept a tight schedule, which included many lovely meals. But in the evenings, we could do a little exploring on our own, which was always the most exciting time. On one of our first nights in Berlin, my roommate and I wandered into a Turkish takeout place near our hotel.

I recognized the towering pieces meat on rotating spits, which I'd seen in gyro joints back home, but what really caught my eye was a glass case filled with colorful salads and a variety of sauces – curry, herb, chili, yogurt. The sandwiches they served were indeed similar to a gyro, but here they were called döner, or döner kebab. I ordered a chicken döner and was delighted to find that I could have any of those salads and sauces tucked into my sandwich. I had mine loaded up with nearly all of them.

The bread, too, was similar to the pitas I'd eaten at home, but it was a little chewier on the inside and crispier on the outside, possibly even fried.

With the first bite, I was hooked. I was surprised to like it so much because I'd never been a big fan of gyros, but the sauces, salads and crispy bread made all the difference for me. I found my way back to that spot as many times as I could for the rest of the trip.

After I returned home, I spent several years on the lookout for a similar sandwich, but every "döner" I found came with little or no sauces or salads, and was served on non-crispy pita bread. It turns out, the version of the döner I loved so much was actually invented right there in Berlin by a Turkish immigrant – Mahmut Aygun served his first doner kebab in 1971 at his Hassir restaurant. Known as the "kebab king," he passed away earlier this year.

Germany has a large Turkish immigrant population, which has led to the widespread popularity of döner kebab there.

To make an exact version at home would require a rotating spit, and quite a large amount of meat – and often, a mixture of meats is used. But you could easily make a similar version with grilled chicken, beef or lamb, or even a vegetarian version with some chickpeas in place of the meat. Like I said, for me, it's all about the salads, sauces and crispy bread.

For the bread, I'd brush both sides of a pita generously with oil and heat on the grill or in a skillet until it's nice and crispy. Here are some suggestions for toppings:

Turkish Cacik
Mint Tzatziki
Curry Yogurt Sauce from Fine Cooking
Roasted Garlic-Herb Sauce from Bon Appétit

Salads and Fresh Toppings
Cucumber, Onion, and Tomato Salad from Food Network
Shredded red or green cabbage
Sliced cucumbers
Roasted peppers
Pickled peppers
Red onions
Black olives

Wikipedia: Döner Kebab
Telegraph: The Man who Invented the Doner Kebab has Died

Related: Leftovers Recipe: Lamb Pitas with Cucumber Mint Tzatziki

(Image: Flickr user Alex Kehr, licensed under Creative Commons)

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