A Döner Story

DoenerImage by Sarazyn

Döner, that’s something I do not like to eat really, that’s something happening maybe once a year and has to be declared an absolute emergency. This makes me a kind of outsider for food again, as Döner is the number 1 fast food in Germany. Taking the money involved, about three times more Döner are sold in Germany than MacDonald’s turnover. Also any kind of German sausage is beaten by an order of magnitude.

If you say Döner in Germany, people think of meat from a vertical spit, packed into a pita bread, decorated with a mixed salad and a thick garlic sauce or a liquid based on a mayonnaise. People often eat it while walking or in public transport, and the consuming person leaves a trace of bread crumbs, rests of salad and meat fabrics. There are variants of veal or even turkey and chicken, often massacred from the spit with an electric knife rather than just cut off.

The Döner as we know it supposedly originated from Berlin in the 1970s. This leads back to a time when I even appreciated this dish.

In the beginning of the 70s I was together with E., who was studying language and culture of the Near East, a topic where she had to study the Turkish, Farsi and Arabic languages, three languages which do not have anything to do with each others linguistically. Turkey was the the country closest to us and consequently we decided to visit this country.

We therefore gathered all our savings and entered the train from Frankfurt to Istanbul, there were no cheap airlines at that time. The trip took 50 hours, just in a seating compartment of course as anything else would have been way too expensive. And even then the train was not the newest, going to Turkey German Railways used their oldest carriages, compartments had 8 seats, non-adjustable of course.

In Turkey we then moved forward in overland buses, stayed in hotels for 5 DM, of course without ensuite bathroom and just with a Turkish loo in the hall with a water-tap and a piece of cloth instead of toilet paper. The journey led us from Istanbul via Ankara and Konya and from there, pure luxury, on a three-day cruise on a mailboat to Izmir (the trip with full noard in a 2-berth cabin for 50 DM). From Izmir we returned to Istanbul by bus.

This lasz leg led us via Bursa, one of the old capitals of the Osman Empire (14th century). And here I had an Iskenderli Kebap (or also called Bursali Kebap) like I never had ever after. Fine meat, lamb of course, with tomato sauce and melted butter, accompanied by a fresh salad. All on a plate of course, not hidden in some pide bread. This I never found again and then of course was lost for today’s fast food variant.

I was reminded of this trip and this meal by an articel in the German magazine “Der Spiegel”, which confirmed all my prejudices. The article also stated something which I neither can confirm or deny as I did not know it, that the original döner kebap comes from this city. The magazine said:

“But please”, Yavuz Iskenderoglu gets het up, “please do not compare döner in Germany with döner in Turkey. Döner in Germany! This deep-frozen piece of meat, just briefly grilled and cover in all kinds of knickknack and sauces. Well no, you will not find something like that here in Bursa.”

Well, this stands for itself.

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