The Doner Kebab: Why Has It Become So Popular?

There are many different types of kebabs out there, and what is considered a good kebab in Turkey or Greece or Germany can be wildly different dishes. While it’s common to see kebab shops across most of Europe at this point, that wasn’t always the case even a small number of years ago. Much of this popularity can be attributed to the explosive popularity of the doner kebab in France, the United Kingdom, and Germany, but it has also spread in popularity (though a bit less so) to areas of Asia and North America.

The Doner Kebab is a delicious hot food snack that mixes protein, veggies, and generally a delicious thin flat bread. These are such a great meal that hits that perfect spot of wanting a meal that is fast, easy, hot, and delicious. The closest comparison in North America would be Gyros, which are very similar, but generally the meat is prepared differently, as well as the sauce depending on the recipe.

Doner Kebabs have become so popular in large part because they are relatively inexpensive, easy to order and eat like fast food, delicious to European (and especially North European) taste buds, and have the right combination of traits that make them great for a late night snack after drinking or partying, or just getting off a late shift before bed.

Instead of stopping at the surface level, let’s jump into a deep dive on just why the Doner Kebab has become so popular throughout Europe. Let’s dive in!

donner kebab gyro on plate
Kebab on a plate…and let’s be honest, the plate is utterly unneccessary.

What Is the Doner Kebab?

The doner kebab is the style of kebab that was extremely popular starting out in the nation of Turkey and that region of Asia. This came from the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century as the vertical rotisserie was invented and quickly became popular since the shaved meat was great for already popular dishes like the Arab Shawarma and Greek gyros, and so this is another variation of that.

In less historical, more modern terms, it’s a warm meal in pocket bread that is delicious, filling, and easy to eat on the go which makes it ideal for a fast food or food truck situation

To give you an idea of just how popular this snack has become in Europe:

  • Paris alone is home to over 550 doner kebab shops
  • The United Kingdome 17,000 businesses sell doner kebabs
  • Germany, over 2 million a day were eaten in 2017

Doner kebabs are hot food that you can get fast, are easy to carry around if you’re on the run, and are extremely filling. That combination of good taste, hot food, and convenient transportation makes them an easy favorite. Especially with prices that are comparable or beat out a lot of other street vendor or to go options.

Kebabs Are Delicious to Northern European Tastes

If you come from countries that have winter climates, then meat tends to be a much bigger part of the traditional diet than vegetables. This makes sense because during long winters you need that fat, that protein, and far enough back in history if it was a long winter you caught meat or starved. This creates a culture that loves a good meat dish, and kebabs absolutely meet that standard.

Keep in mind that there are also multiple inexpensive meat options that can be found throughout many parts of Europe and with countries like Germany that make many sausages and have a history of being able to take less desirable beef, chicken, and pork pieces and grind them into delicious sausages or ground meat patties, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his provides a delicious and inexpensive source of meat for Doner kebabs and other kebab-style dishes.

Kebabs Make a Great Late Night Snack

Studies have shown that when a person goes out partying or drinking the taste buds change and the body is looking for certain things in food to soak up the alcohol and put some calories in the stomach without setting off taste buds that you don’t want going off when intoxicated. That includes food that has high fat, high calories, some carbs, and needs to be hot and fast to eat.

Does that sound familiar?

In the United States there’s a reason bar foods include French Fries, cheese curds, and in deep fat fried everything. Doner Kebabs check off many of those, and provide a deeply satisfying snack experience whether you’re in the middle of a Pub Crawl, heading home from one, or just out very late and suddenly hungry.

That combination of traits is also why it’s a great fast food snack when it’s cold, and Europe does have plenty of winter climates.

Kebabs Can Be Made to Taste

There are multiple ways to alter the taste for a local area. The meat can be pure sausage, it can be based from lamb, beef, or pork, it can be treated in yoghurt or not, the sauces available can be different, it can be thin flat bread or thick pita bread.

Not to mention that because Doner Kebabs follow the same format of food preparation as Gyros, Shawarmas, and food from regions that have very strict food standards, there are recipes that accommodate all religious and allergy requirements. So these can be made Kosher or Halal, with or without dairy, with or without nuts, etc.

Even the Doner Kebab in Europe would not be an exact match to the original Turkish recipes of a few centuries ago, as each region sees change based on local foods available and local dietary tastes.

Simple to Order & Eat

Order a kebab, and get a hot delicious meal in less than a minute that you can carry with you. The fast food experience has thrived because sometimes you need, or just want, a hot delicious meal that you can get on the run and enjoy without complication or major concern.

Kebabs are easy to carry, easy to eat, and you can’t overestimate the power that fast food can have. Compared to many other fast food options, Doner Kebabs are at least comparable in how popular they are in taste, if not straight out preferred, and they are often among the easiest fast food meals to carry which is another huge plus.

Easy to order, easy to carry, easy to eat. That sounds like the road to being a favorite food when it tastes as delicious as these Doner Kebabs do.

Doner Kebabs in Europe Are Inexpensive

Sometimes you just want fast food, and you want to be able to hand over a small bill and still get some change back. There aren’t many sit down restaurants where this is possible but in many parts of Europe if you find a Kebab Shop you’ll find very reasonable prices.

The fact inexpensive meat can be used to create a delicious dish, and that so many can be made quickly, allows Doner Kebab shops to get a good chunk of profit via pure production.

So offering a delicious fast food option that is also often the cheapest option around? That’s a winning combination.

A Taste of Home

Sometimes you just want a taste of home. While calling this a pure immigrant influence would be wrong, hugely wrong, there have been many immigrants from the Middle East in recent decades and a Doner Kebab can help hit that spot for traditional cooking and happier moments of the home many had to flee.

This also applies to people who are used to kebabs as a fast food. As I know from experience, you can go on a local food binge when you travel half way across the world, but after two weeks of a cuisine, no matter how delicious, your body might just want something familiar, or as my Dad put it: “I loved Paris, but after two weeks of rich French food and wine, I just wanted a McDonald’s hamburger and a beer my last day there.”

I’m not the McDonald’s fan he is, but I have had that experience of having amazing dish after amazing dish, but then sometimes you just want something familiar. And as someone who has ordered plenty of Gyros in multiple places across the U.S. anything like that would count as a taste of home for me if that desire hit.

Common Doner Kebab Questions

There are some common questions that tend to come up a lot when it comes to the Doner Kebab, so let’s look at some of the common ones here that might also be able to shed some more light on the hugely growing popularity of kebabs.

Are Gyros and Doner Kebabs the same thing?

They are not, though they are very similar. They are prepared the same way, look similar, and depending on the recipes they could conceivably even taste similar. Generally the meats used are a little bit different and the exact bread used are going to be different otherwise the two are very similar.

Chances are if you love one you will also love the other.

Is Shawarma and Doner Kebabs the same thing?

No. Similar to Gyros, these are very similar to one another and come from the same regional tradition of that tasty, hot, and portable foods. So again if you are familiar with one or really like one then you will be familiar and like the other.

Are Doner Kebabs Turkish?

Technically, yes. They come from a region of Turkey and remain popular there, however the Doner Kebab you have in the UK, the one you have in Germany, and the one you have in Turkey may very well look and taste different, though they would all be recognizable as being from the same type of recipe even if the exact ingredients and preparation changed a little based on location.

Why were Kebabs banned in Venice?

There have been many laws and rules passed in Venice that seem strange to outsiders, and whether or not you agree with the reasoning, new kebab shops were among many businesses that were banned from starting in Venice after 2017. The reasons given are quite mixed.

The Guardian reported it as being to defend the decorum and culture of the city of Venice, which was a response that raised some eyebrows. However, this Business Insider article points out it’s a broad aim at fast food looking to lower food waste by tourists and perhaps push more towards traditional sit down restaurants that represent the food culture of the city.f

Then there’s the UK Times which points out many shops would shut down after a year or two and then the same owners would re-open elsewhere under a new name to continuously dodge taxes, which is why many trinket and tourist shops have also been banned from opening – though existing ones may remain.

The Doner Kebab Is Going to Remain Popular

There are many different types of kebabs out there, but the explosive growth of the doner kebab has really been something to behold. While many of the shops have expanded on the types of meats and ingredients that go into a kebab versus the traditional make, it had worked and worked very well.

These delicious meals are affordable, taste great, and fill that fast food niche of hot filling food that is very portable. When you look at all the benefits that Doner Kebabs provide, it should come as no surprise that they have become so wildly popular in Europe.

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