What Is Shawarma?

Shawarma is a delicious Turkish delicacy that has been around for many centuries. This Middle Eastern dish is one that is enjoyed by hundreds of thousands across Europe, and all across the world.

What is Shawarma

But, what is shawarma? Is it a variation of a kebab, or is it something entirely different? 

In this guide, we will look at what shawarma is exactly, down to the meat and sauces that are used, and how closely it’s relationship is to the donor kebab and the gyro.

So, let’s get started.

What Is Shawarma Made From?

Shawarma is a street food that is popularly served and consumed in Middle Eastern countries, and Middle Eastern-styled restaurants. It originated in Turkey in the 18th century – which, at the time, was the Ottoman Empire – and is still popular today all around the world.

The dish is prepared by simply cooking thin slices of marinated meat on a vertical rotisserie. The meat is removed from the rotisserie using a knife, or an electric slicer, usually while the meat is still spinning.

After being removed in thin strips, the shawarma meat is served in pita bread with salad, and either tahini or a yogurt-based sauce. 

In the 18th century Ottoman Empire, the meat used for shawarma was, traditionally, lamb or mutton. The meat was marinated with an abundance of spices, including turmeric, paprika, cardamom, cumin, and cinnamon.

Nowadays, you can have shawarma made from lamb, beef, chicken, veal, or turkey. This meat will also be lightly spiced while being cooked.

How Is Shawarma Served?

Shawarma is often served within a toasted pita bread, although it can also be served in a wrap or a sandwich. The bread will be filled with a number of other fillings, along with the meat.

The marinated slices of meat are typically accompanied by a sauce; either tahini, a hummus-based condiment, or a yogurt and/or mint based sauce. 

Along with the meat and the chosen condiment, the flatbread will also be filled with a number of vegetables and other fillings. This will include onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, hummus, and pickled vegetables, e.g., red cabbage.

Is Shawarma A Type Of Kebab?

A lot of people often confuse shawarma for a kebab, or even believe that they are one and the same. 

This is technically true, but not in the way that you think. 

Let us explain. 

The term ‘kebab’ is more traditionally used to describe small chunks of meat and vegetables that are positioned on a skewer, which have been cooked on a grill. This was the original definition of a kebab.

As the years have gone by, there have been other variations of a kebab that have become popular in the Middle East, and, following this success, have become popular all around the world.

The doner kebab, for example, is a type of kebab that has been sliced from meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie… just like shawarma. 

In some countries, shawarma is regularly advertised as a kebab. Many ‘kebab shops’ around the world, particularly in Western Europe, will serve shawarma, but call it a doner kebab, despite the fact that they are not technically the same thing.

This is where is gets confusing: shawarma is, technically, a variation of the doner kebab. Therefore, shawarma did come from the kebab family, which is why it appears to be so similar to a doner kebab when it is cooked and presented.

That being said, a doner kebab is not the same as shawarma. There are two separate food products, and there are some differences to be found between them… although these differences are so slight that it may be difficult for some people to be able to tell the difference between them.

The Difference Between Shawarma And Doner Kebabs

What is Shawarma

The main difference that can be found between doner kebab meat and shawarma meat is that doner kebab meat is made from ground meat, while shawarma meat is made from spit-roasted meat. 

It is the textures that vary greatly between the two dishes, with doner kebab meat being a lot softer than shawarma, giving less of a bite.

Aside from this, another way to distinguish between shawarma and a doner kebab is how they have been served. Shawarma is often served in a pita with hummus, tahini, and finely sliced vegetables. 

Doner kebab, on the other hand, is typically served with spiced yogurt, chili sauce, or garlic sauce, alongside a salad made up of onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, and carrots.

It is also sometimes served in a wrap, which can be confusing, as shawarma is also sometimes served in this form.

All in all, the doner kebab and shawarma are both very popular meat-based dishes that originated in the Middle East. They are very similar, but it is important to remember that they are not (technically) the same thing.

The Difference Between Shawarma And Gyros

Similarly to shawarma, the gyro is also a close descendant of the doner kebab. In fact, shawarma and gyros were thought to have been invented around the same time, although they became popular in different areas of the continent.

Gyros became a popular food in Greece, while shawarma was popular in the Ottoman Empire. Both were inspired by the donor kebab, but, again, there are some differences between these two dishes that mean that they are not the same food.

For example, gyros are traditionally made using pork, and served using tzatziki sauce. While they are typically served with some of the same vegetables as shawarma and doner kebabs – onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc. – they also contain fried potatoes, peppers, and olives.

Final Thoughts 

While shawarma is a direct descendant of the donor kebab, they are not the same thing, and should not be thought of as so. The same goes for gyros; each of these dishes are independent in their own rights, regardless of their similarities and historical backgrounds.

While traditionally served with lamb or mutton, you can now grab yourself shawarma made from virtually any meat you can think of, including chicken, beef, and veal.

We hope you found this guide helpful.

Mark Williams
Latest posts by Mark Williams (see all)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *