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Oct 28, 2012 05:34 PM

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 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:

                  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

                                          Where does my local taco joint get his Al Pastor?