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Shawarma vs Gyros ? Anyone have an opinion?

Hi there -

Just curious, how similar is Schwarma to Gyros? Cultures aside - seems pretty close to us but maybe we are missing the spices used, etc.?

Thank you!

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  1. What passes for gyro is heavily processed ground meat, carved from a spit if you're luck. If you're not what you get is basically strips of lamb bologna on a pita. Shawarma is closer to tacos al pastor: sheets of seasoned meat stacked on a spit and carved to order usually wrapped in lavash bread.

    13 Replies
    1. re: monkeyrotica

      Ahhh...you are right and wrong. Unfortunately what passes for gyro in the US is that "heavily processed ground meat" but I myself don't consider that gyro. If you know where to go you'll get sheets of seasoned meat as well at a good Greek restaurant, the way it's done in Greece. You are correct though that processed bologna cylinder is rubbish.

      1. re: ios94

        Which is why I'm always on the lookout for doner kebabs as they tend to be more like shawarma than the bologna-on-a-spit gyro type product. A local Bosnian place does an excellent halal version, but is totally different from the Turkish restaurant across town.

        1. re: monkeyrotica

          Funny. Most döner in Germany is of the processed ground meat variety, whereas gyro & shawarma is always seasoned meat.

          You people always have to change shit around '-)

          1. re: monkeyrotica

            i don't understand this bologna on a spit concept.

              1. re: linguafood

                yeah, right

                aside from the snark, i have never had any gyro that is equivalent to bologna on a spit.

              2. re: alkapal

                Here ya go. It's the gyro equivalent of pre-cooked Taco Bell meat or Arby's "meat product."


                1. re: monkeyrotica

                  how can they call that a gyro?

                  1. re: alkapal

                    Same way they can call diarrhea inducing chemically processed injection molded curd product "cheese food."

                    1. re: alkapal

                      They ran it for a few years at the cafeteria at work. Sadly, as much as it wasn't a gyro (the wrapper was even grosser), it was better than a lot of the stuff they have.

                  2. re: alkapal

                    In England, it was more like this:


                    It's layered meat w/ seasonings. It really is good. At least, it was at 2am when you're out as a college student. The donner kabob can (with its million variations of spellings) were the best thing then.

                    1. re: chowser

                      there ya go! that's what i get here!

                      i love gyros!

                      1. re: alkapal

                        I do too, but it's been a long time since I had one- a real one, that is. Now I must go get one.

            1. In addition to what monkeyerotica pointed out, there are different sauces and for each sandwich, too. Gyro usually comes with tzatziki or another yogurt sauce, whereas schwarma has a tahini based sauce, toum (a garlic sauce) or both. I just had a chicken schwarma from my favorite Lebanese place today, and in addition to toum and tahini sauce, they have a fabulous green spicy condiment that they put on, as well as delicious pickled turnips. You'd never find any of that on a gyro.

              13 Replies
              1. re: biondanonima

                Pickled turnips? Sounds good!
                What do the Lebanese call them?

                1. re: Tripeler

                  kabis is the name. a recipe: http://www.food.com/recipe/Turnip-pic...

                  we always get the kabis and garlic sauce to eat with our roast chicken. great combo.

                  1. re: alkapal

                    If any of you folks find yourself in Wheaton MD, check out Max's Kosher Cafe -- they have fabulous felafel and shwarma (I like the felafel a bit more) and the most incredible array of pickled vegetables and other toppings.

                      1. re: alkapal

                        The guy who makes the sandwiches is a true artiist. He starts with felafel/shwarma, then adds some toppings, then more felafel/shwarma, then more toppings.. Every bite is a different taste sensation. It's a holy mess but well worth the napkins. Not recommended for eating while driving!

                        They offer plates as well as sandwiches but I prefer the sandwiches so you get the flavor combinations in every bite.

                          1. re: Bob W

                            You should post this on the Mid Atlantic board so hat people looking in that area can find it.

                            1. re: carolinadawg

                              It would be the DC/Balt. board -- where I have waxed rhapsodically about Max's felafel before!

                                1. re: alkapal

                                  Oooo I have friends in Silver Spring! Might be time for a visit.

                          2. re: alkapal

                            Kabees is just something pickled. Kabees lift is pickled turnip specifically.

                            1. re: JungMann

                              thanks for elucidation. i just know what my lebanese law partner had and called them. i never have made them, though it is apparently super easy.

                      2. They're the same thing! Shawarma, shwarma, and other variant spellings is the Arabic name, doner kebab is the Turkish name, and gyro is the Greek name for the pita/pida/flatbread sandwich you're asking about. Traditionally they were all originally made by taking large flat slices of lamb and piling them on a spit and roasting them vertically, however, that's rarely the case in the U.S. any more. Most gyro meat in this country is made with a ground/chopped mixture of lamb and beef and formed in a plant in Chicago, from where it is shipped on a spit ready to roast, and is also roasted, sliced, and cryovaced in said Chicago factory and shipped across the country to restaurants that don't have the vertical spit set-up, as well as to supermarkets where you can buy it and make shawarma/doner kebab/gyros at home. A yogurt, garlic, and often including cucumber sauce is the original sauce in all of those countries. And just like a hamburger or hotdog or pizza, they are much better in some shops/restaurants than in others.

                        16 Replies
                        1. re: Caroline1

                          I was basically on board until we got to the sauce conversation. In the Shwarma spheres the primary sauce is tahini based (sometimes combining tahini with humus as the sauces) and it is rare to see a dairy based sauce offered.

                          I think in general the largest differences are when we get to condiments. Palestinian/Jordanian condiments are going to be a mix of a raw cucumber and tomato salad, various pickled options (either specific pickled vegetables or cabbage slaws that have a light pickle to them), and fried veggies such as eggplant or cauliflower. French fries are also common garnishes. Another sauce option is Ambah which is an orange Iraqi sauce and sumac based. Some places offer more condiments, others less - but tahini and the cucumber/tomato salad are always present.

                          1. re: cresyd

                            Also - in Palestinian/Jordanian places in the Middle East, turkey or a turkey/chicken blend is more common than lamb. Which I guess does make there quite a few difference. But the method of cooking the meat is very similar!

                            The increased presence of using turkey may just be a recent cost development, but most of the Shwarma I see in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Jordan is not lamb.

                          2. re: Caroline1

                            Umm... "gyro" has nothing to do with the pita bread, C1. It means "turn" in Greek (guess where gyrate comes from :-)), since the meat revolves on the big spit.

                            1. re: linguafood

                              Yes, I've lived in Greece. I was making headway with koine Greek in college, then we moved there and I had to start all over again with demotic. But I got far enough I DO know what "gyro" means. And there is no place in my post where I said a "gyro" and a "pita" are the same thing. Let me rephrase what I said into a less compound sentence:

                              Shawarma (and other variant spelling of the Arabic name), the Turkish doner kebab, and the Greek gyro are all variations of the same sandwich traditionally served on pita (Greek), pida (Turkish) and "flat bread" (term used because I don't know how to spell the Arabic variations of the Arab name for pita) type of sandwich under discussion.

                              As for turkey (as in Thanksgiving bird) being popular today in Israel, turkeys have been popular throughout the middle east for decades, maybe even centuries. They became popular partly because, unlike chickens and many other fowl, they can be herded in a flock, just as sheep are. When I lived in Turkey in the late '50s and early '60s, it was not uncommon to see a flock of turkeys being herded to the halal butchers in the center-city bazaar for slaughter. Things like draught and available pasture (often reduced by urbanization) impact on the price/availability of red meat in that part of the world as much as anyplace else. But there was a time when lamb was the preferred meat universally. Well, except for places where they preferred camel. And in Greece, pork souvlski became very popular but never quite caught on in the Islamic or Judaic segments of the population throughout the Middle East!

                              When I say that shawarma, doner kebab, and gyros are the same sandwich, I'm talking historically. Just like the west and food in America, food "styles" come and go in all parts of the world. The same goes for the sauces and condiments. What you find in any restaurant, off of any street cart, or in any home kitchen as "standard fare" today will NOT be there if you manage to figure out a way to time travel backward to see what was there ten, twenty, fifty, or a thousand years ago. Fusion cooking is an ongoing process that has been happening since man first learned to use fire. I hate it, and I rant against it simply because it prevents me from getting the foods I remember so fondly from my youth. But there is no way to stop it, except by mastering the art of cooking and eating at home!

                              Carry on...! '-)

                                1. re: alkapal

                                  The street where I lived in Adana (Turkey) was a quiet neighborhood, but one that for some reason, herdsmen used to favor. Herds of turkeys (which are called "hindi" in Turkish) would fill my apartment with the gobble gobble gobble sound of turkeys anywhere, but when sheep were being herded to market, they did NOT bleat, they just walked. And a flock of walking sheep on an asphalt street sounds exactly like a heavy downpour of rain! I used to think to myself, "Those shepherds are some of the greatest foley artists in the world!" Convincing rain sound effects don't come easy. '-)

                                2. re: Caroline1

                                  Question on the turkey - my experience with the turkey shwarma is based on my time in the Middle East over the past 5 years and is based on what's available in a contemporary context. I am aware that traditionally shwarma used to be primarily made with lamb, but it's far more difficult to find now. If anything, finding camel or beef is easier because you know the regions that specialize in using that kind of meat.

                                  That being said the practice of using turkey primarily over lamb - do you have an idea of when that started in restaurants in the Middle East or Turkey? The times I have had lamb shwarma it's generally much better than the turkey, but it's just done so rarely in eateries that I've been to in the Israel/West Bank/Jordan context.

                                  1. re: cresyd

                                    Sounds like a situation that may be peculiar to -- or at least at peak proportions in -- Israel, since the building boom in that country (and it's not a huge country either) will, by its very nature, impact heavily on pasture land, so it's not like anyone just goes to search out a local shepherd, and asks him to sell you a lamb for a barbecue!

                                    It's now creeping up on 20 years since the last time I was in Turkey, and that trip was short and we limited ourselves to Istanbul. I don't recall seeing any turkey ("hindi" in Turkey) on a menu anywhere, nor do I recall ever eating turkey/hindi when I lived in Adana, some fifty years ago. I SAW (and heard) lots of them being herded to slaughter, but don't recall eating any except those I cooked for Thanksgiving dinner. (I'm not all that fond of turkey to start with.)

                                    I suspect turkey as a protein source is a good choice for population-dense countries. A herd of turkeys requires a LOT less pasture land than a herd of any four legged beasty, they reach maturity faster, and market pound for market pound require less food. That makes turkey, chicken, and fish a no-brainer for economical and eco-friendly animal protein choices in the world today.

                                    If I ever saw turkey shawarma/doner kebab/gyros on a menu, it would probably be the very last thing I would consider ordering. For me, it's "fusion" cooking, and I find fusion menus CONfusing at best! I was just browsing the New York Times, looking over the photos of the damage from Hurricane Sandy that hit the city this morning. One photo shows NYC police removing a blown down marquee in the China Town district, and right next to the damaged marquee is an unharmed one that reads, "Emperor Japanese Tapas Shabu Restaurant." Now, if that isn't a plate full of confusion, I don't know what is! ...hmmm... Maybe I need to rethink my Thanksgiving menu....? Turkey shawarma with cranberry yogurt sauce and sweet potato salsa? hmmmm... I don't think so! '-)

                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                      Isn't ALL ethnic cooking "fusion cooking" of some kind? Tacos al pastor wouldn't exist had not Mexican cooks been influenced by the shawarma cooked by Lebanese immigrant shepherds in the 19th century. And izakayas have been around for ages serving the Japanese equivalent of "tapas." My problem isn't fusion cuisine itself so much as fusion cuisine that's in love with it's own pretentiousness. This usually involves truffle oil, "kobe beef," and lots and lots of "foam."

                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                        I see the points that you're making regarding hearding - but I also guess that the main point for places impacted by the Israeli economy and not is that turkey meat is cheaper in the region.

                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                          I lived in the ME for a number of years and have traveled a lot in the region. Never been to Israel or Turkey, though. I have never seen turkey used as a typical meat in my time in the ME. Wonder if it is just particular to those two countries.

                                          1. re: luckyfatima

                                            Ooooops! I didn't say turkey is a "typical" meat in Turkey when I lived there. And I seriously doubt that it is today. I did say that when I lived there, turkeys were sometimes herded down my street in flocks of fifty or so birds, but I also added that I never had turkey in a Turkish restaurant or home when I lived there. We moved there as a major drought broke, and lamb and seafood (we lived not far from the Med) were the primary proteins because cattle (dairy and beef) had been decimated by the drought. Just for the record! '-)

                                            1. re: luckyfatima

                                              My experience with turkey used in shwarma is specific to Israel, the West Bank, Jordan - and there I've seen turkey used as the primary meat in restaurant shwarma.

                                      2. re: linguafood

                                        Ohhh, yeah. Gyro=gyrate. I always wondered where that name came from. Somehwere in Texas, a there is a lightbulb turning on over a blonde chick's head, haha!!
                                        This is an interesting thread. My friends and I just selected Jordan for our '13 girlfriend trip, and of course the food is what I'm thinking about. Didn't realize that the shwarma would be chicken or turkey, that's another thing I learned today :)

                                      3. re: Caroline1

                                        As a Chicagoan I can testify to the popularity and ubiquity of the processed gyros in the city (the smooth "lamb bologna" referred to above). Even at the Arabic market, if you buy packaged meat for shawarma from the freezer section, it will be nothing more than slices from the meat cone you'd find rotating at many a hot dog/gyros stand.

                                        This is not to dismiss sliced gyros out of hand. It can be an indulgent pleasure of spices and greasy lamb tucked in puffy pita when done right. Just as shawarma can be a dry disappointment if not done well.

                                      4. WOW! Thank you everyone for your input. It will be nice to give some side-by-side comparisons and see which ones are the clear winners! Unfortunately, we don't have a ton of variety where I live (WI) but next time I am traveling, I will post and see if there are any 'Great' restaurants in the area that I should try.

                                        Many thanks!!

                                        1. So the supplier probably isn't Sysco. How about Alibaba.com?

                                          Where does my local taco joint get his Al Pastor?

                                            1. re: ios94

                                              Alright, there's a lot of dismissive shit talking in this thread and I can't take no more. The Kronos-style processed gyro cone has been around for a long time and it has its own unique history and identity at this point. There's a reason it's so popular… when made with care it's freaking delicious. If I walked into my neighborhood corner gyro place and got a pita full of sliced-up lamb roast, I would send it back! That's not what I want when I order a gyro.

                                              Saying that the only real gyros are the whole-meat style you find in Greece is like saying the only real pizza is found in Naples and the only real hot dog is found in Frankfurt.

                                              1. re: RealMenJulienne

                                                Whenever I order carryout gyros I always check to see if they have a spit. More than half the time, they don't. What they're serving is that Kronos zero-prep bologna strip abomination that they grab from the fridge and slap on the flattop grill. Fact is, buying/renting a Kronos spit costs money and teaching someone how to carve and prep the meat takes time, all of which cut into an eatery's bottom line. So they have to decide: do they want to charge more for the existing product OR charge the same for a cheaper product OR just sell a smaller portion? Because once your product reaches a certain price point, people stop buying it.

                                                1. re: RealMenJulienne

                                                  "Saying that the only real gyros are the whole-meat style you find in Greece is like saying the only real pizza is found in Naples and the only real hot dog is found in Frankfurt."

                                                  Yep, pretty much.

                                                  1. re: RealMenJulienne

                                                    Exactly. Gyro meat is no different than meats like like mortadella, pâtés, confit, sausages, etc. Just because they're not steak doesn't mean they can't be good..

                                                    1. re: chowser

                                                      Well, Kronos style gyro meat is to a gyro what a hamburger steak is to a tenderloin. They can all be good, but they can't all be the same thing. 'Nuff said... :-)

                                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                                        Right. It's a matter of knowing what you're getting. There are days when I want a good burger and if I'm getting a rib eye, it might not hit the spot, even if it's a "better" product.

                                                        1. re: chowser

                                                          "Saying that the only real gyros are the whole-meat style you find in Greece is like saying the only real pizza is found in Naples and the only real hot dog is found in Frankfurt."

                                                          I never said anything like that.

                                                          The link I posted above saying that this is what real gyros should be like is from Montreal, where I live.


                                                          1. re: ios94

                                                            Wish they'd open a shop in Dallas! Montreal is a long drive away!

                                                            1. re: ios94

                                                              Problem is that's not a gyro. That's a doner kebab. Says so right in the window. Also, you're "fake gyro" link says "rawdoner" in the link itself.

                                                              When I go looking for doner kebabs, I want the stuff that you're linking to, NOT the processed meat referred to as "gyro." Similarly, if I go looking for a gyro and they give me a doner kebab (or a hotdog or a bucket of grits) I'd say there's some communication problem.

                                                              1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                I think there is some confusion concerning the terms gyro and doner, in my universe it's the same thing. Fine, call it doner it doesn't change that between the 2 links I posted one sucks and the other doesn't.

                                                                You are getting too technical, the words 'doner' and 'gyros' are interchangeable (rightly or wrongly). I'm sure one can argue the historical and cultural differences, the preparation, and the ingredients and say they are not but I believe for most those two words mean the same (at least here in N. America, even in Europe if you look at the links I've posted below).

                                                                The link I posted, that says "doner" in the window front is referred to as gyro, at least up here. Most people call it "gyro" not "doner", but like I said the two words are interchangeable. I personally don't care what it's called I just want the good stuff.

                                                                With all this talk, I actually passed by that place yesterday, the one that says, "Doner" in the window, I have my receipt on me at it states; 1 Gyro. Like I said, it's the same thing up here, I'm only arguing about the Krinos type processed stuff and what I had yesterday.

                                                                We're getting into semantics now. I'd be curious to see links as to what you consider the difference between a gyro and a doner.

                                                                I've never been to Turkey so I can't vouch for their doner/gyro there. Places in Greece call it both gyro and doner again, right or wrong the two words are interchangeable.

                                                                1. re: ios94

                                                                  Maybe this is a Canadian thing, but gyros and doners and shawarma for that matter mean different things to different people. Sure, they're all meat in a pita (or lavash) with some sauce and lettuce, but that's where the similarity ends. If you go to NYC and order pizza you're going to get one thing, and if you go to Chicago and order pizza you're going to get something totally different. Similarly, you order a gyro in America 9-out-of-10 times you're going to get a Kronos Brand processed lamb meat product. If you order a doner kebab or shawarma, you will get the sheets of seasoned meat stacked on a spit. All of which are preferrable to the zero-prep gyro bologna product I posted up thread.


                                                                  1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                    Ok, now we're on the same wavelength. I had a feeling that might have been the reason for the confusion. I guess it is a US terminology thing because even in Greece the good stuff is called "gyros" and I don't think I've ever witnessed the processed product there.

                                                                    The name of the resto says it all.


                                                  2. Apparently the Avengers prefer Shwarma.

                                                    1. I have a confession. I like the lamb spam. I lived in a part of the ME that was more shawarma dominant for a number of years, and I could only ever find shawarma with shaved layered meat on Lebanese flat bread. These were slathered in garlic-olive oil amalgamation (thom or salsat thom), a drizzle of tahineh, and contained pickles and french fries. (The same stands that put french fries inside the shawarma would also put french fries inside of hamburgers, too.) I would add a dash of Tabasco style sauce to mine. When I lived there, I missed the lamb spam gyros that I had eaten in my hometown in the US. These had salad, tomato, and onion inside, and had thick and creamy tzatziki sauce. The bread was thick and fluffy and very different than the think Lebanese bread. I think lamb spam tastes good, and there is a pizza place near me that offers it as a pizza topping, so I order that sometimes. I enjoy both shawarma and gyro, though. I have never had a gyro made without lamb spam so I don't have any idea how it tastes.