I heart Doner Kebap, and I’m not afraid to show it.

Thanks to blogger Abstract Dynamics for our newest connective link to the rumbling unconscious that is the internet.  I really don’t take these lightly, particularly when one considers that the link above mine belongs to an MIT professor.  Ay, papi!  Rarified company.  Thanks!

Generally I write about my most recent dining experiences.  I find that the details fade so quickly in my mind, and my enthusiasm has often drifted along to the next GREAT THING that I’ve discovered – key to getting my point across to you is to harness that enthusiasm into the article.  So I’m going to try and fake it this time, because I haven’t had either of my favorite Doner Kebap sandwiches since June of ’02, and I haven’t had one I could say I was happy with since this past April.

Let’s start with the basics: Doner Kebap is a Turkish fast food that has rapidly become more popular than hamburgers or sausages in the fast food segment of the German and Austrian diets.  Turks are the largest minority group in Germany, and Germans’ Doner obsession is, I think, the surest sign that their toehold in Germany is more than impermanent.

Doner Kebap is very similar to the schwarma that we all know and love from our local falafelries, but that’s about the closest comparison I can make.  Why?  Simply because, like schwarma, Doner Kebap is more of a category than a set item.  The meats vary wildly in type and quality, the sauces range from tadzhiki-style yogurt, to a conventional chile sauce, to what looks like spicy Thousand Island dressing, and the breads?  Could range from dry pita to fluffy flatbread.  Intrigued yet?

Not surprisingly, the best two Doners I’ve ever had were about as different as could be.  Very surprisingly, they were not in Berlin, which has among the biggest Turkish populations in Germany – indeed, they weren’t even in Germany but the southern provincial capital of Graz, Austria.  “Graz, Austria?”  I can hear you scratching your heads, “But I’ll never go there!”  I realize that it’s not exactly a tourist destination but, culinarily speaking, it is a land of many unique things that I’ll be writing articles about at some point.

Anyway, about the Doner – there’s always a Doner stand by train stations in Germany and Austria, much like McDonald’s surgically attaches itself to any port of entry and exit in the US (why, oh why, can’t we get decent airport food?).  But the unique thing about Euro-Kebap in Graz (on Bahnhofguertel across from the train station) was that, unlike most train station fast food, this one was actually GOOD.

I believe Euro-Kebap was chicken-based.  I say this not because I’ve forgotten, but because I’m never sure with the kind of mystery-meat kebap that Euro used.  The meat was perfectly cooked, though – the huge pre-cooked layered skewer was shimmering with grease, and these guys move enough meat in a day that they can turn up their rotisseries to a much higher temperature than your average place in America (they also don’t save the meat overnight, kids – can you believe it?).  The bread was pita style, which is fine except when the grease and sauce soak through and get everywhere (though that was kind of part of the fun).

As always, with Doner, you can order “alles” and receive lettuce, tomatoes, and onions, or indicate which toppings do or don’t tickle your fancy.  Requesting “scharf” (spicy) in this case defines your choice of sauce – the orange spicy sauce in lieu of the afore-mentioned white sauce, which is a little less tadzhiki-ish here by virtue of its thickness.

However, I believe the pinnacle of the sandwich will always be defined by the best bread, and, unfortunately, Euro-Kebap’s pita does not live up to the round Turkish bread of my other favorite place, which unfortunately I can’t recall the name of.  I’m going to dub it “Family Kebap,” because it’s run by a father and son who are very friendly and, if I recall correctly, speak excellent English.  (I’d love to go back and grill them about where they’re from and all, now that I’ve got this gig.)  I do know that you can get there by taking any Strassenbahn to Jakominiplatz and walking southwest on Reitschulgasse – it should be on the left-hand side before you get to Dietrichsteinplatz.

Back to the bread – it’s called pide, and it was pointed out to me by this website that it is sort of reminiscent of Italian Focaccia.  Good call!  I would call it slightly less tough than Focaccia – it’s doughier in consistency, which aids in the soaking up of the meat juices and sauce.

Speaking of meat, Family’s Doner is lamb-based, which means an even bigger monster of a meat-on-a-stick from which your very tasty meat is carved.  The texture and look of the meat on the skewer is sort of like the Doner Kebap place on MacDougal, except that it’s not rancid.  The sauce is your usual white sauce, and if you order it “scharf,” you’ll get a generous sprinkling of some pretty hot dried chiles (looks like your neighborhood pizza’s spice topping, tastes much better).

So, better meat, better bread, not as good sauce – Family Kebap was definitely my favorite, but my friends all liked Euro-Kebap better.  What’s a brother to do?  Well, I ate a hell of a lot of both of them, as well as at a couple different places in Berlin that served good but not great versions.  Never did I pay more than 3.50 for one, and this was back when the Euro was way under the dollar in value.  The Doner Kebap was far and away the best food deal of my entire trip to Europe and that includes the late night chips, cheese, and beans extravaganza that I had at Oxford.  Dynamite!

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