Come doner, come durum, the delectable and flavorful kebaps of Istanbul come in many shapes and sizes. No matter which way you slice, dice, shave, chop, or grill them, they all seem to taste delicious.
Some dishes like the doner kebap and the doner durum are famous beyond words. Other kebaps are less known by name, but you’ll soon know whether they are made of pieces of meat or created with minced meat.
Famous Kebap Types
Doner Kebap dishes were originally made with lamb, beef, and sometimes a mixture of both. The list of famous doner kebap dishes below is just a small sampling of the many available in and around Istanbul. These dishes plus more can be found in small quaint bistros or in high-end restaurants anywhere in the city.
This can be served in so many different ways. Again, the meat may be beef, lamb, or if you prefer chicken. Pork is never offered due to cultural and religious reasons. In restaurants, this meat may be served along with fried potatoes or rice and an accompanying salad. At a casual dine-in or out place, you can order a doner kebap to go as a type of sandwich with whatever you choose to fill the pita-like flatbread, pide.
This dish offers the succulent doner meat wrapped in the tortilla-like lavas. You may ask your server for grilled vegetables or spices to be included in your “wrap” depending on your personal taste. You may be offered fried potatoes, a fresh salad with local greens or pickles to accompany your “sandwich” and some tomato sauce for your “wrap.” Durum can also be made with minced meat that has been grilled and wrapped in lavas. Ask your server for any other veggies or spices you prefer. There is no right or wrong way to make or eat a doner kebap.
This is doner meat placed on buttered pide and served with yogurt. You may ask for extra butter or tomato sauce as a dressing or even for dipping. This is another favored dish of mine and is sometimes called Bursa Kebabi.
Meat Pieces Kebabs
The main distinction here is that the meat in each dish are in the form of chunks rather than slices.
Lamb meat that is sliced along with tail fat is placed in a marinade of yogurt, onion, pepper, and salt to absorb the flavors for a day. The meat is then skewered on a spit (cag- the dish’s name) and charcoal-grilled, vertically. As with doner, the meat is shaved and served on unique tiny skewers with grilled onion, pepper, and tomato.
This dish is made with a portion of the preceding dish, sebseli kebap after it is cooked on the stove. Called a “paper” kebab, it is then wrapped in a fireproof paper, similar to parchment paper, and roasted in the oven.
This dish is made by whisking a marinade of yogurt, onion, olive oil, pepper, salt, and often tomato paste. Lamb, beef, or chicken cubes are immersed in this mixture and refrigerated for at least two days. The meat is then stuck onto skewers with tomato and pepper cubes and grilled.
Lamb is cut into small pieces and rapidly roasted with tiny onions, or shallots. The lamb is then placed in a casserole, preferably a clay pot. Tomato and spices, thyme, pepper, salt, and bay leaves are sprinkled on top of the meat and cooked on the stove. Placing dough on top of the lid will keep it tightly closed, allowing no steam to escape, making for tender meat and vegetables.
This dish can be made with either a whole lamb or just the legs, known as lamb chops. The lamb is baked with green pepper, tomato, onion, and fresh lemon and is usually offered with a side of crispy fried potatoes. This dish gets its name from the earthen jar or clay-lined pit which is the oven used and is called a Tandiri or tandoori.
This is mainly a vegetable kebab except for the addition of small lamb pieces which are buttered and roasted quickly. The lamb is then tossed with lightly sauteed green pepper, potatoes, carrots, shredded tomato, and eggplant. Recipes can differ and often the vegetables may be added raw. Other vegetables often included are peas, celery, broccoli, and zucchini.
Minced Meat Kebabs
The main distinction here is that the meat in each dish are in the form of thin slices rather than chunks.
This is a simple dish consisting of meat that has been roasted and served over peeled, broiled, and then mashed eggplant with spices, garlic, and yogurt.
Minced lamb meat along with tomato, onion, and dried hot red pepper is all kneaded, placed onto skewers, and grilled over hot coals. They are served on oval Turkish flatbreads called pide, drizzled with gravy and sprinkled with parsley.
Made with kneaded lamb, tail fat, locally fresh red pepper, and hot green pepper, this mixture is then spread on skewers and grilled over charcoal It is served on a thin tortilla-like bread or lavas, with tomato, green pepper, and onion all grilled as a side dish.
Kneaded lamb and dried red hot pepper with a sprinkling of salt are lined in chunks on a skewer along with one or more of green pepper, tomato, eggplant, or onion. As an accompaniment, usually green pepper, tomato, and onion are also offered along with pide.
Meatballs are formed by kneading lamb thigh meat, pepper, salt, and often garlic. These are placed on a skewer along with aubergines, another name for eggplant as well as brinjal, which is chopped into tiny pieces and grilled over charcoal. The dish is offered with roasted peppers and tomatoes. Restaurants may also serve this entree with a tomato sauce gravy.
Kneaded beef or lamb is combined with tomato paste, pepper, salt, parsley, and garlic. This is wrapped in lava and baked in the oven. It is presented cut into hearty slices with either a dollop of yogurt or tomato sauce.
Kebap basically means meat that is roasted or dry-grilled directly on the fire.
The definition of doner is meat, seasoned with local spices, herbs, and suet and grilled on a vertical spit with shaved slices and then used in various dishes. Doner essentially means rotating roast and has many names such as gyros, shawarma, tacos al pastor, sufllage, or kebab Torki.
Along with the mouthwatering aroma that surrounds you, the way you will know if the restaurant you have chosen has skillfully mastered the art of the kebap is by noting if the meat on the spit or skewer has remained intact and not fallen off into the charcoal.
The fire has to be just the right temperature as well as having the right amount of grease, which is usually suet, or beef fat, mixed with the meat, for you to get that genuine taste that is uniquely the kebap.
Don’t be afraid to experiment, because it’s all about the kebaps in Istanbul. Your hosts will love when you ask for suggestions. They want your dining experience to be exceptional. Restaurants love to see you eat with gusto and enjoy your meal (afiyet olsun) to the fullest!
Below you’ll find answers to our frequently asked questions about the different types of kebaps. If you like, you can also read up on the history of kebaps or read more historical kebap FAQs.
Doner kebabs are either plated dishes or grilled meat placed on sandwich bread, while Durum kebab use wrapped flatbread like lavash or yufka.
The literal meaning of durum in Turkish is roll or wrap. A thin flatbread such as lavash or yufka is generally used in Turkey and it makes it very easy to hold in your hand when it’s stuffed with vegetables and various types of sauces.
Doner is a specific type of kebab that is made of meat pressed into the shape of an inverted cone that is slow-cooked on a vertical rotisserie. The outer layer is then sliced into thin shavings as it cooks which are then added to a plated dish or sandwich bread.
Kebaps are most often made with beef or lamb, but some offer chicken grilled on skewers as well.