Gyros, döner and shawarma, which are similar types of food cooked on a vertical rotisserie, all mean “turning” in different languages.

Shawarma (/ʃəˈwɑːrmə/; Arabic: شاورما‎) is a dish in Middle Eastern cuisine consisting of meat cut into thin slices, stacked in a cone-like shape, and roasted on a slowly-turning vertical rotisserie or spit. Originally made of lamb or mutton, today’s shawarma may also be chicken, turkey, beef, or veal. Thin slices are shaved off the cooked surface as it continuously rotates. Shawarma is one of the world’s most popular street foods, especially in Egypt, the countries of the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula, and beyond.

Etymology

Shawarma is an Arabic rendering of Turkish çevirme[tʃeviɾˈme] ‘turning’, referring to the turning rotisserie.

History

Although the roasting of meat on horizontal spits has an ancient history, the technique of grilling a vertical stack of meat slices and cutting it off as it cooks first appeared in the 19th-century Ottoman Empire, in what is now Turkey, in the form of doner kebab. Both the Greek gyros and shawarma are derived from this. Shawarma, in turn, led to the development during the early 20th century of the contemporary Mexican dish tacos al pastor when it was brought there by Lebanese immigrants. Continue Reading (2 minute read)

8 thoughts on “Gyros, döner and shawarma, which are similar types of food cooked on a vertical rotisserie, all mean “turning” in different languages.”

  1. mhmc20

    gyros

    gyro-scope

    i knew they were connected somehow

  2. ParkaBoi

    Story time. I used to cook professionally and one of my first jobs was in a Cypriot restaurant. One of the other chefs was a huge Turkish guy called Kemal. Kemal had had an interesting life; he was from a Muslim family and was born in what was Yugoslavia. His family left when he was a boy and they moved to Turkey where there was less trouble. He grew up there, joined the Turkish army, saw the world, became army middleweight boxing champion (he was about 6’ 6” but only 11 st 4lbs so he had a big reach). Then he cooked his way around Europe before coming to London, meeting a girl, starting a family and moving to the sleepy seaside town where we both worked.

    At the start of my last day at the restaurant Kemal said “Before you leave today my friend, I must give you one piece of advice for your whole life.” I thought “Wow, Kemal has had such an interesting life, if he can distil that into one piece of advice it must be pretty important.” And I spent the rest of the day quietly wondering what he would say.

    It got to finish time and we were all getting changed so I said to Kemal, “What do you have to tell me? What’s the most important thing you have learned?” He put his big meaty paw on my shoulder, looked me square in the eye and said slowly and with great gravitas, “My friend, if you only follow one piece of advice in your life, let it be this. Don’t eat doner.”

    That was 1992. I haven’t touched one since.

  3. soiltostone

    Funny how the word “rotisserie” is used in the article without mention of its etymology.

  4. Artteachernc

    They all mean “delicious “ to my mouth….

  5. MandaMoxie

    Well, now I’m just hungry.

  6. kerem_ozcan

    The most surprising part for me is that I have had both “shawarma taouk” and “tavuk çevirme” so many times in my life without ever making the etymological connection.

  7. CommonSenseAvenger

    Döner translates to something as “Returner” as in it returns, No? From the verb Dönmek. Turkish fam help me out here. Doesn’t really mean turning, does it?

  8. john_stuart_kill

    Well, not quite for “shawarma.” This is an Arabic transliteration of a similar-sounding word in Turkish, which means “turning” (or something like that) in Turkish. “Shawarma” doesn’t mean anything like “turning” in Arabic; it just means “shawarma.”

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