Nutrition: The doner kebab turns 50 and is significantly more expensive in many places

This culinary and cultural relationship is eventful and has lasted for 50 years: Germany is the country of the doner kebab. But now a crisis looms.

Once with everything please. A phrase, an ad. Four words are enough to close a deal at a kebab shop. Most of the time, the man behind the counter smiles pleasantly, nods, and gets to work.

Germans love doner kebabs. The stuffed flatbread business is so successful in this country that the doner kebab industry generates more sales than McDonald’s or Subway. Or both together. Every day 550 tons of doner kebabs are eaten. In Germany they produce 1,000 tons a day and make billions in the process. But while the doner kebab is celebrating its 50th anniversary with flying colors, the court is up against the substance. The price is depressing.

As cheap as it is on the German average, the doner kebab can no longer be produced economically. Gürsel Ürbel recently reported this to the public. Ürbel is the president of the Association of Turkish Doner Kebab Manufacturers in Europe (ATDID). It’s hard to imagine what would happen if “Döner King”, “Masters of Döner” or “Ali’s Döner Paradise” suddenly disappeared. But first things first. Before we can digest the existential concerns of the doner kebab, we need to clarify how the doner kebab could become the Germans’ rotisserie and fishing skewer.

Döner: the culinary miracle of immigration

Because the stuffed flatbread is something of a culinary immigration miracle from Germany. But how did a meal served by Turkish immigrants become so established? Why is a stuffed flatbread so popular in a country that also makes currywurst, fish rolls and meatloaf? The history of the doner kebab is much more complex than it suggests. Rather, it is a history of German-Turkish relations and as rich in detail as ordering in a kebab shop can sometimes be: With or without onions? Spicy or not spicy? Regular sauce or with extra garlic, and no tomatoes please. But more meat! Meat, no, a doner kebab with falafel, please.

This brings us back to what is actually the biggest place for stuffed flatbread, the doner kebab restaurant. Or rather: kebab shops. This is where the product has its origin. However, doner kebab experts in this country do not fully agree on who exactly is the inventor. One thing is for sure: Berlin is the kebab center of Germany. To be more precise, Berlin-Kreuzberg. The doner kebab was invented there in the 1970s, or at least sold to customers in its current form. And not so in Turkey.

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The doner kebab is one of the healthiest fast foods

Author and doner kebab expert from Germany, Eberhard Seidel, agrees. The journalist has been dealing with the origin of the doner kebab for some time and recently did so again in his entertaining book “Döner. A Turkish-German Cultural History” (März-Verlag, 257 p., ¤20) made. Eberhard also refutes what ATDID advertises on its home page and publicly: Kadir Nurman was the first vendor to offer doner kebabs in 1972. But Seidel says: Unfortunately, it can’t be traced.

Rather, the doner kebab as we know it today came about gradually and is the result of a creative process that has grown over the years. Turkish guest workers began selling it when they were forced to support themselves and later families in the politically difficult 1970s. So the doner kebab is not the brainchild of a single creative chef. Rather, it is the result of a Turkish spirit of invention and survival in Germany.

Halit (left) and Halip from Berlin’s Imren Grill prepare a doner kebab. It is said that it was invented fifty years ago.

Photo: Joerg Carstensen, dpa

However, the kebab is probably one of the healthiest fast food dishes. If only because, on average, it has significantly more vegetables than its competitors on the fast food scene. Also, because it is a balanced meal that has mass and therefore also occupies stomach volume, explains ecotrophologist Julia Zichner. However, she applies the following: The balance of the kebab is up to the customer. The meat and the sauce are the two ingredients that make the main difference in quality. is the sauce homemade? Where does the meat come from? Furthermore, Zichner explains, Ayran, the popular drink for doner kebabs, is made up of nothing but water, salt, and yogurt. And that’s probably a lot healthier than the cola with the burger.

In Germany alone there are 16,000 coffee shops.

The doner kebab was initially a product for low-income people, probably also because of the financial difficulties of the inventors. Today is different: kebab restaurants are now springing up everywhere. In Germany alone there are more than 16,000 coffee shops. It does not matter if you are a schoolboy, a student or a millionaire: doner kebabs have become a food that appeals to all walks of life. Millionaire is even an understatement. Actually, he should be called a billionaire. Because probably the most surprising commitment to the stuffed flatbread came from none other than Elon Musk. Exactly, the one about Tesla cars, the Twitter bargain and the trip to space. During one of his earthly excursions to Germany, he tried it, the doner kebab, and grew to love it.

The doner kebab has also long since arrived in the luxury sector. And that, of course, in Berlin at the Hotel Adlon: beef tenderloin strips, truffle cream, marinated cabbage, red onion, tomato, flatbread. The hotel advertises these ingredients for its luxurious doner kebab. The dish costs a whopping 26 euros.

The unit price should be around 7.30 euros today.

Costs in general. And so to the kebab price-performance problem explained at the beginning. The national average for a doner kebab is between four and six euros. If the ATDID association gets away with it, the price would have to be at least 7.30 euros in order to cover such high production costs. The situation has been very difficult for about six months, Ülber said. According to the president, those that do not collapse due to these costs will probably do so in the fall. Because there is expected to raise the minimum wage to twelve euros an hour.

The doner kebab business is no longer so easy. Well, maybe it never was. It was overshadowed by scandals for many years. The brochette was mixed with cheaper pork, there were food scandals, and there was a lot of competition that drove the price down.

How the reputation of the doner kebab was saved

In 1989 came the solution for the doner kebab, or as Seidel writes: “The reputation of the doner kebab was saved.” The step that is probably still missing so that a product can be called truly German. What would Germany be without laws and regulations? In any case, the doner kebab was also associated with a purity law from then on. And from that moment on, it became clear: not everything can be called a kebab.

A maximum of 60 percent ground meat is allowed; otherwise it is not a doner kebab. May contain lamb, mutton, veal or beef. Do not mix anything but salt, spices, eggs, onion, oil, milk and yogurt. All deviations from the kebab purity law must be identified. There is, for example, the “rotary skewer of finely minced beef”, the “chicken skewer – doner” or the short and sweet “skewer of minced beef with breadcrumbs, part of the finely minced meat”. So keep your eyes open at the snack bar.

Today it can be said with confidence: Germany is a doner kebab country. And somehow without kebab we wouldn’t really be Germany.

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