A kebab's just a kebab, right? No, actually, that's quite wrong. The differences between the different kebabs you'll find around London – gyros, shawarma, souvlaki and doner – may be subtle, but they indicate just a little of the history of one of the world's favourite fast foods and the journey it has been on through the years. Let's take a look at what makes a gyros a gyros and not a doner, souvlaki or shawarma!
1. Doner – the original kebab?
The doner kebab is like an ancestor to its younger descendants – the gyros and the shawarma. It has its origins in the Ottoman empire, dating back to the 1200s. The meat was cooked in a large cone-like shape, on a vertical spike that was turned as it roasted. When cooked, the outer layers were shaved off while the rest of the cone was left on the spike to cook.
Doners today are still prepared in the same way with gyros and shawarma kebabs are variations on the same theme. At Anatolia, you can get chicken and lamb doners, served with rice and salad. However, if you're struggling to choose between the two, you could always plump for the Mixed Doner, which includes both chicken and lamb.
2. Gyros – Mediterranean herbs and tzatziki
Greece was a part of the Ottoman Empire until the nineteenth century and its cuisine developed under the Ottoman influence. In Greek cuisine the gyros is very similar to the famous doner kebab: gyros means "turn" in Greek and both are cooked on a vertical rotisserie.
A gyros is usually made with lamb, beef, pork or chicken. The meat is marinated with Mediterranean herbs such as thyme, rosemary, and oregano. The Pork Gyros Wrap at The Athenian is a typical example of authentic Greek gyros cooking. Marinated in lemon juice, olive oil and herbs, the meat is served in handmade pita bread, along with oregano fries, tomato, red onion and, of course, tzatziki sauce.
3. Souvlaki – cooked on a skewer
Souvlaki is linked to the Greek word souvla (meaning spit), and the origins of souvlaki date back to ancient Greece. Back then the dish was known as kandaulos. The main difference between a gyros and a souvlaki is the way the meat is cooked. Where gyros are cooked as vertical cones of meat, the souvlaki meat is cooked horizontally, on skewers that are rotated on a grill.
Some souvlaki are served on the skewer, but they can also be taken off the skewer and served in pita bread with a sauce and garnish – like the lamb souvlaki plate at Mikos Souvlaki. The way they're usually served leads people to think that gyros and souvlaki are interchangeable terms!
4. Shawarma – seasoned and spiced
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The Shawarma is like the gyros' cousin: it has the same heritage – the Ottoman Empire – but as the doner travelled to the Middle East it became known as the "shawarma", the Arabic word for "turning". The Shawarma was adapted to local tastes and developed its own identity, which today makes it different to a gyros or a doner kebab.
A shawarma is often made with beef, lamb or chicken, with the meat being marinated for up to 24 hours in different seasoning and spices. Typically, these will include bay leaves, turmeric, cloves, cinnamon and coriander. Toppings might include tabbouleh, fattoush and hummus with the sauce is often being tahini – made with sesame seeds. After its slow marinade and vertical roasting, the Shawarma Lamb at Maroush is served with sesame oil sauce, onion, parsley and tomato.
One thing that all types of kebab have in common is that they all hit the spot. For a lunch on the go or a late-night snack, order yours now with Deliveroo!