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Food Porn Friday: What about kebab?

Doner kebab

Some things in this life are so innately, profoundly wonderful that they have the ability to easily cross all boundaries, from the rich to the poor, spanning the globe and traipsing over cultural boundaries in the process.  Coffee and chocolate are good examples of this phenomenon.  But the one that's most recently regained my attention and adoration is the humble doner kebab.

I had lunch not long ago at a relatively new spot in the Bywater/St. Roch area called, simply, Kebab.  It's a cozy place with a limited menu and open only Friday through Monday.  But what is on the menu is worth seeking out.  Kebab features three sandwiches: gyro, falafel, and doner kebab.  It was the last one that caught my eye.  If you haven't been aquainted with doner kebab, know that it's the Turkish version of shawarma or gyro, which is to say that it is a sandwich piled with thin shavings from a large, vertically roasted cone of meat and dressed with various toppings and condiments.  (Mmmmmm...meat cone.)

Kebab, interestingly enough, strives to be Dutch/German-style Turkish, Greek and Arab cuisine, which gives you a certain indication of just how worldly the meat cone is.  Kebab's version featured organic chicken thighs (my favorite) stuffed into a fresh-baked roll and tricked out with pickles, cabbage, red onions and a generous slathering of garlic aioli and mustard.  Do you know what it's like to fall head-over-heels in love?  With a sandwich?  Well, now I do, because this doner had my heart from first bite.  When you eat this sandwich, you realize very quickly why it's so popular across the globe.  Who in their right mind wouldn't want to savor this thing?  No one, that's who.

Some interesting facts about doner kebab: The key element, naturally, is the meat, which can be beef, lamb, chicken, veal, turkey or a combination thereof, but it has to be fashioned into the aforementioned meat cone, slowly roasted on a rotating spit, then shaved to order.  No meat cone, no doner kebab.  After that, the toppings and condiments vary along with the language of whoever happens to be preparing it.  Doner -- or döner in the original Turkish, which means "to turn around" and also features a very heavy metal umlaut -- is thought to have originated in Turkey in the mid 19th century and spread from there.  If you happen to be in Istanbul, you can get your doner over rice, on a pita, or even wrapped in lavash bread and grilled until crispy.  It's generally regarded as typical Turkish street fare, especially late at night.  I can think of few things more satisfying than a doner kebab after a long night out on the town.

Since we're on the subject of the mighty meat cone, I have to share a couple of thoughts on shawarma, doner's Arabic cousin, most often made with lamb.  Specifically, I'd like to talk about Iron Man.  Follow me, here.

There's a funny scene in The Avengers when Tony Stark's metal-suited hero is lying on the ground, battered, having put put there rather indelicately by the forces of evil during the film's giant climactic battle.  His helmet smashed, Tony regains consciousness as his fellow Avengers come to his aid.  After being told by Captain America that they'd won the fight (hooray!), Stark, beaten heavily, eeks out, "Let's not come in tomorrow.  Let's just...take a day.  You ever try shawarma?  There's a shawarma joint about two blocks from here.  I don't know what it is, but I want to try it."  The kicker comes at the end of the movie, after the credits have finished rolling, when we see the whole hero posse, including David Banner (the Hulk), Black Widow, Hawkeye, Thor, Captain America, and of course Tony Stark all sitting in that little joint, quietly snacking on shawarma.  Ba dump bump, rimshot.

It's a funny gag, and of course Robert Downey Jr.'s delivery is spot-on, but here's the thing: I absolutely, vehemently refuse to believe that a man like Tony Stark, a self-described "genius billionaire playboy philanthropist," doesn't know what shawarma is.  Especially because, if you remember, he spent a fair amount of time in Afghanistan in the first movie.  Not that his captors were roasting shawarma for him as he pretended to build them a weapon of mass destruction, but still.  He didn't spend his entire time in captivity while in the Middle East.  I mean, he had to have encountered shawarma at least once, right?  Not to mention the fact that the guy is a globe-hopping genius, and one can easily find shawarma all over the world.  You're telling me he hadn't figured this one out yet?  I'm not buying it.

But I'll tell you what I will buy: More doner kebabs.  That, friends, is a sure bet.


Native New Orleans food writer Scott Gold, author of The Shameless Carnivore, has written for Gourmet, The New Orleans Advocate, Gambit, ThrillistEdible Brooklyn, Tasting Table, The Faster Times, and other publications. His Food Porn Friday column for NolaVie offers a weekly mouth-watering photo essay designed to start culinary conversations in the Big Easy. Find him on Twitter @scottgold.