Shawarma Vs Doner Kebabs: The More Indulgent Meaty Wrap
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Over centuries, there has been significant migration from the Middle East to various parts of the world, including India. This movement facilitated the exchange of cultural and culinary practices. During the Mughal Empire, which ruled a significant part of the Indian subcontinent, there was considerable interaction between the Middle East and India. The Mughals themselves had Central Asian roots, and their cuisine was heavily influenced by Persian, Turkish, and other Middle Eastern flavours. While shawarma wasn't introduced during the Mughal era, the groundwork for Middle Eastern culinary influence was laid.

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In the post-independence period, particularly from the 1970s onwards, there was increased travel and migration between India and the Middle East, especially due to the oil boom, which attracted a large number of Indian workers to Gulf countries. It is believed that these workers were exposed to shawarma and brought back a taste for it to India.

With the global rise of fast food, the Doner Kebab too found its way into the menus of many international fast-food chains and local eateries in India. Its appeal lies in its convenience, affordability, and flavourful taste, making it a popular choice in urban areas.

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The two dishes do have similarities, they have differences too, in terms of their place of origin, preparation and even taste.

Shawarma is a staple street food in the Middle East, reflecting the region's rich culinary history and the blend of cultural influences over centuries. It has gained international popularity, especially in cities with large Middle Eastern communities.

Doner Kebab, a traditional and iconic Turkish dish, has become a favourite street food in many countries, particularly in Europe. It is often associated with quick, affordable, and satisfying meals.

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From The Beginning 

Doner kebab originated in Turkey. The term doner kebab comes from the Turkish words ‘döner,’ which mean rotating, and ‘kebab’, which means grilled meat. It is believed to have been invented in the 19th century by Ottoman cooks. Shawarma, on the other hand, originated in the Middle East, particularly in the Levant region which is the modern-day Lebanon, Syria, and Israel andPalestine. The name shawarma comes from the Turkish word ‘çevirme,’ meaning turning, which refers to the cooking method. It is believed to have evolved from the Turkish doner kebab during the Ottoman Empire.

The Cooking Technique

Chicken, lamb or beef are commonly used to make a Shawarma. The meat is often marinated with a mix of spices including cumin, turmeric, paprika, and cinnamon. The marinated meat is then stacked on a vertical spit and slow-cooked, typically over a period of hours. It is shaved off in thin slices as it cooks. Usually served in pita bread or flatbread, accompanied by garlic sauce, tahini, pickles, tomatoes, and sometimes french fries.

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Doner Kebabs are traditionally made with lamb, but beef and chicken are also used commonly today. The meat is often seasoned with a mix of spices such as sumac, cumin, and oregano. Just like the shawarma, the meat here is also cooked on a vertical rotisserie. The key difference lies in the marinade and specific spice mix. Served in pita, flatbread, or as a plate with sides like rice, salad, and sauces such as yoghurt-based sauces, chilli sauce, or tzatziki.

The Flavours

Shawarma is loved for its bold and aromatic spices, including garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, and cloves. The  garlic sauce or tahini that it is served with, adds creamy texture and tangy flavours. The spice mix used in doner kebabs is milder as compared to shawarma, focusing on savoury and earthy flavours from spices like sumac, cumin, and oregano. The yoghurt-based sauces or tzatziki, that it is typically paired with, make for a refreshing contrast to the savoury meat.

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The Regional Versions

While both dishes are now eaten across the globe they mildly transform in each region. The Middle Eastern Shawarma, for example. features a strong garlic flavour and is often accompanied by pickled vegetables. This version is most popular in India.The Greek Gyro, a close relative of shawarma, is often served with tzatziki, onions, and tomatoes in pita  bread. The Israeli Shawarma is usually  made with turkey and served with a variety of salads and hummus.

This is true in the case of the doner kebab as well. In Germany, where it has become extremely popular, it's often served in a thick bread called ‘Dönerbrot’ with a wide variety of vegetables and sauces. The British doner is typically served as a late-night snack with a simple salad and chilli or garlic sauce. In Turkey, the doner kebab is often served as a simple wrap with fresh vegetables and a yoghurt-based drink).

Generally, shawarma can be high in protein but also in fat, especially if sauces and fried accompaniments such as french fries are included. Opting for chicken shawarma with lots of vegetables and minimal sauce can make it a healthier choice. The doner kebab too can be high in protein and fat. The nutritional content also depends on the type of meat used and the accompanying sauces and sides. Choosing leaner meats and avoiding heavy sauces can help make both dishes healthier options.