Friday, August 19, 2011

My favorite street food in Germany - and it's not bratwurst

If you ever visit Germany, you will most likely come across these curious little food stands called Döner Kebap. If you don't know what they are, you might be tempted to just pass them by and never give them a second thought. But I'm here to tell you, do all you can to find the time to try one.

What is a Döner Kebap? It's only the most glorious sandwich ever to grace this planet.

The largest ethnic minority in Germany are people of Turkish origin and one of the things they have imported from Turkey is this amazing sandwich (so I guess if you're in Turkey, you should seek one out too :p). As an American, I find myself comparing a Döner to a Greek gyro because of how ubiquitous the gyro is in our culture and also the fact that the meat is roasted on a vertical spit just like the gyro. But, no offense to the Greeks because I like gyros just fine, but a Döner is infinitely better.

Just what makes it better? Well, there are a few things that help catapult this sandwich into the stratosphere of ethnic street food. First of all, let's start with the bread. A Greek gyro is typically served with warm pita bread that you fold the meat into like a taco. A Döner, however, has this special bread that is crispy on the outside and pillowy on the inside that they grill very briefly on a panini maker to help warm it and create grill marks. They then cut into the bread to make a pocket so the meat and toppings go inside the sandwich rather than folded into it. The crispiness of the outside and warm, chewiness of the inside is such a lovely contrast of textures.

Secondly, there is the meat. I haven't investigated exactly what meat goes into a gyro (unless it's a chicken gyro) or a Döner, nor do I think I want to. I fear if I learn exactly what goes onto that spit, I might not want to eat it anymore. No matter, the way the meat is handled once it is taken off the spit is what makes these sandwiches so different. Gyro meat is either served in chunks or in long, thin ribbons (at least that's the way they're served at the Greek coney island diners in Michigan) whereas Döner meat is shaved off the spit into really small pieces that are crispy and full of fatty flavor. Every piece of meat in the sandwich has a bit of chew and a bit of crisp to it, just like the bread.
It's like I can hear a choir of angels when I see one of these

Another difference is that some Döner places serve their sandwiches with salty rectangles of feta (or what I assume is feta) and gyros are cheese-less (at least all the gyros I've ever had anyway). If you know me at all, you know that the addition of cheese to anything is a good addition.

Once you get past those major differences, the sandwiches are similar from there. They are both served with toppings like onions and tomatoes, and they both get doused in a yogurt sauce.

I highly recommend if you've never tried one of these sandwiches and you find yourself in a German-speaking country (or Turkey for that matter) to seek one out.

Believe it or not, one of the main reasons (though not the only reason) why I wanted to visit our old hometown in Germany was to eat a Döner at the stand where we used to get them when we lived there. I don't know if it was just because that was our regular place, but it had, by far, the best Döner in all of Germany.

Which is why I was devastated on the day of our arrival in Schweinfurt to be walking toward our Mecca of street food, only to discover that our Döner stand had been replaced by an Asian noodle place!
Ninjas like noodles, but not at the expense of a Döner!

We searched downtown high and low for a new Döner place, and it wasn't until after we gave up and had already eaten somewhere else that we came across this oasis:
All is right with the world. Ninja found a new Döner place!

Never fear! We still had one more day in Schweinfurt. We'd just eat there for lunch the next day.

Though the Döner wasn't quite as good as our regular place (I'm convinced, however, that part of this was psychological), it still hit the spot and was a great way to end our time in Schweinfurt.
Pardon me while I inhale this sandwich


  1. Gyros, here in Washington, are made with lamb and served with cheese, unless you ask for none. We can get them with feta or cheddar.
    The Donar sounds like a great food though. Grilled bread is always good.
    Sara Thompson

  2. That's interesting. In Michigan gyros are never served with cheese.

  3. Your post has made this vegetarian hungry, lol.
    I didn't realize that Germany had a signficant Turkish immigrant presence.

  4. Doner kebap...yum yum! I've always worked with the assumption that they're made with lamb though I too have never looked too closely. But thank goodness I can get similar sandwiches in the UK, because you've made me pretty hungry for one!

  5. OMG -- I can't believe I didn't try one when I was in Germany. Must remedy that next time I'm there.

  6. When I was in Sweden I had amazing arabic food. I just returned from Ottawa and there are small gyro places everywhere.

  7. Luckily we have Doner kebab in the Netherlands too. Before I stopped eating meat, I ate these quite often. Nowadays I still make a stop there because they often serve falafel as well :)

  8. In Greece, I had lamb, and pork an chicken gyros...all delicious. They too serve small crispy pieces of meal. But no cheese!

  9. I love gyros so, if you say donors are better, I must some day try them. By the way, I've eaten gyros in many places in the US and there is always feta cheese on them. Only one place in Portland asked if I wanted it or not. I assumed they always came with feta.

  10. Hmmm... that is so strange because no place in Michigan serves gyros with cheese - and we have a fairly large Greek population here. What's up with that?

  11. As a vegetarian, I don't think I've ever had a Döner Kebab. We have them in the Netherlands too and I think these places usually are not high on hygienics.

    In Amsterdam recently I had a wonderful falafel sandwich, though, something I hadn't had before, either. I think this is probably the vegetarian equivalent to Döner Kebabs. Just as awkward to eat, I'm sure!

  12. I lived a lot of my life near Astoria, New York, which has one of the largest Greek populations outside of Greece! I definitely have had feta on gyros, as well as souvlakia, but the bread you described sounds quite different. I hope to try it some day!

  13. That sounds like an amazing sandwich -- so glad you finally found one on your recent trip.