Shawarma vs Doner Kebab vs Gyros

Gyro, Döner, Shawarma: What’s the Difference?

If you have been a fan of mediterranean cuisine you have probably tried one of these. The common denominator of all three dishes is how the main protein is cooked – they all use a vertical rotisserie to slow-roast the meat.

Some of the main differences lie in the type of meat, how it is marinated, and the overall flavor profile of each dish. But the names of all three dishes: gyro, döner, and shawarma mean “turning” which is exactly how they are cooked.

Where Did it All Start?

The process of roasting meat on a vertical rotisserie dates back to ancient history. This process of cooking was first discovered in the 19th century, in the Ottoman Empire. Technically all three sandwich wraps originated from Turkey and was modified according to the region it was introduced to. (Source: Cambridge World History of Food)

What is a Gyro?

The name gyro comes from the Greek word γύρος which means circle or to turn. It was heavily influenced by the Turks but evolved to their own kind of dish based on tradition. (Source: Food Timeline)

Gyros were often made with pork or chicken. They were then wrapped inside a flatbread called pita along with tomatoes and onions.

The main sauce used in a gyro is tzatziki which is basically a salted yogurt mixture that is combined with cucumbers, garlic and olive oil. (Source: Thursday for Dinner)

The dish is topped off with fresh herbs like dill, mint, parsley or thyme.

What is a Döner?

The word döner comes from the word dönmek which means to turn or to rotate. It is often called the döner kebab which literally translates to rotating roast. (Source: Food Timeline)

The main protein ranges from lamb, beef or chicken, and in very rare occasions people would use pork. The flatbread wrap also included a salad which was composed of cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers. (Source: Food Timeline)

The sauce is a yogurt and garlic blend almost similar to the consistency of good old mayonnaise.

Today, there are different versions of the Döner found across the world. Fun fact, in Japan, they use a sweet and spicy sauce quite similar to Thousand Island dressing. There are also different versions of the Döner found in Germany and France. (Source: Time Out Tokyo)

What is Shawarma?

The name Shawarma, originate from the Turkish word çevirme which means turning. Once again, pertaining to the vertical rotisserie.

The big difference between shawarma and the aforementioned wraps is the marination of the main proteins used. Arabs often use lamb, mutton, veal, beef, or chicken for their sandwich – never pork. This is due to the fact that Arab countries are synonymous with the Islamic Culture where the consumption of pork is deemed a sin. (Source: Encyclopedia of Jewish Food)

This sandwich is often accompanied by pickled vegetables, fried potatoes, and a thick garlic sauce. Other variations would include grilled tomatoes and peppers.

The Lebanese were the first to have developed their own version of this sandwich, which then influenced other middle eastern countries as well.

Summary

While the base of each wrap is the same, its the accompanying ingredients, spices and sauces that truly make a difference between them.

At the end of the day, the better wrap will solely depend on which flavors better suit your palate.

8 thoughts on “Gyro, Döner, Shawarma: What’s the Difference?”

  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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