Three street food options.
Shawarma, döner kebabs and gyros are all street food served out of carts and fast food dives in many cities around the world by Turks, Arabs and Greeks. They all refer to meat prepared in a similar way – on a vertical rotisserie at a very high temperature. Shawarma is an Arabic word meaning ‘turning’. Doner is a Turkish word meaning ‘turn around’ and Gyro is Greek for ‘circle’. The exterior of the meat or chicken is crisp and the interiors remain moist. The meat or chicken is served in a warm pita or flatbread with condiments particular to each country. Feta, olives, baba ganoush, tahini, various sauces and more. The differences among the three comes down to spices, marinades, toppings and sauces.
The Döner kebab came first, and the gyro and shawarma came later. The Turkish Döner meat was brought to Germany, Nova Scotia and Canada in the early 1970s. Traditionally, it is strips of lamb and beef marinated in Turkish spices and roasted on a vertical rotisserie. It is garnished with tomatoes, onions, lettuce and a special Turkish dressing.
Click here for a Döner kebab recipe from the BBC
The gyro (pronounced yee-roh) uses pork, lamb or beef with a topping that adds flavor. It is seasoned with a blend of oregano, rosemary, thyme and marjoram. It is garnished with tomatoes, onion and tzatziki sauce – a garlic yogurt with diced cucumbers and dill (it’s delicious). Sometimes French fries are added to the roll-up. It is believed that a growing Greek immigrant population in New York City in the 1970s introduced the U.S. to the Gyro. I certainly ate my share of them when I lived in NYC.
Click here for a recipe for Gyro with Tzatziki Sauce from The Food Network.
Schwarmas – Like the gyro, shawarmas can have lamb, but more often they have chicken or turkey that is cut into chunks. They are served with toppings like tahini, tabbouleh and hummus and garnished with lettuce and/or tomatoes. Unlike gyros, however, tatziki sauce is never used with a shawarma because it would take away from the marinated flavor of the meat. Only mild flavored toppings like hummus are ever used. In New York a shawarma will be served with yogurt mixed with mayonnaise and lemon juice. Roll it up in pita or flatbread and it’s ready to go.
Click here for a recipe for Chicken Shawarma from The Mediterranean Dish.