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Shawarma or Gyro or Doner Kebab?

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Some say they are different words for the same thing. I find that confusing.

I've been eating the pita sandwich with the ground-lamb food-like product for years here in the midwest. I don't hate them. But one day, not long ago, in Toronto, I happened into a place that had the lamb-equivalent of proper Tacos Al Pastor....thin (1/4"?) slices of lamb, marinated overnight, stacked on the spit with a big chunk of fat and an onion at the top, spinning around, heated by actual charcoal instead of an electric element. The finished sandwich wasn't huge and didn't have iceberg lettuce, but it did have parsley, sauce and some pickled veggies. It was amazing. I immediately ordered 3 more and took them with me and ate them for the rest of the day.

Are they all called the same thing whether they use the chicken-mcnugget-like lamb discs or actual unchewed lamb? Here in Minnesota, they call the ground-lamb stuff Shawarma. It's a shame because I can't figure out the nomenclature. Help! Thanks.

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  1. The nomenclatures schawarma and gyro seem to be interchangeable . Here in the East gyro has taken over for whatever reasons. I once had schawarma in Aarhus, Denmark and it was delicious primarily because the pita was made fresh on a grill with the other ingredients being similar to a gyro. Nothing like that is duplicated in the US so far as I know.

    1. Gyro is the Greek word, Doner is the Turkish word and Schwarma is the Arabic word. They all describe the same preparation: some kind of meat spit roasted. The type of meat depends on the region, for example pork is the favorite in Greece, but you won't find pork Doner or Schwarma. Lamb, beef and chicken are common across all 3. I know it seems confusing but if you just think about it as ways to describe the same meat preparation in different languages then its easier. Also, some gyro/schwarma/doner is with ground meat but this is usually the inferior stuff, look for the real stuff which is spit roasted chunks of meat. If you are looking for pork or chicken, BZ Grill in Astoria is amazing.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Astoria Lurker

        Thanks Astoria. Ok, so the name is not the meat, but the preparation. Now I'm looking for a way to avoid the ground meat and go for the chunks instead. Because the ground, while it can be done proper, is just not like the chunks when they're proper.

        BZ Grill sounds good. Anything like it in Brooklyn or Manhattan? We've only got 3 days and I'm not sure we'll make it to Queens.

        1. re: JimGrinsfelder

          Azuri Cafe on 51st St. @ 10th Ave. has one of the best schwamra in the 5 boroughs.
          Ezra, the owner, is a renowned cranky pants but it's all an act.
          Regards,
          JK

          1. re: johnk

            Azuri might be closed the next two days for the Jewish holiday of Succos. I would call before making the trip. If they're open, make the trip. Beware of Ezra.

            1. re: abu applesauce

              I have no idea what they do in Minnesota but a proper Taco al Pastor always has a slice of pineapple on top of the rotating spit. The iceberg lettuce has to be a regional thing too.

              And while I guess it's possible to get a beef shwarma/doner/gyro, in all my travels to the countries where they've originated, I've never seen one. I've never really looked in western Europe though. Otherwise it's always pork or lamb depending on religous restrictions, or chicken.

              All you need to know:
              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shawarma

      2. Do you remember the name of the place in Toronto?