IstanbulGoing OutFood

Turkish Kebap History

Before there was fire, man ate the meat of animals they hunted uncooked or raw. Anthropologists believe that fires for cooking and warmth were first ignited about 250,000 years ago., but there is no exact timetable as to when man began cooking with fire.

Meat kebabs have been believed to have been grilled on swords by Nomadic tribesmen and in the eighteenth century, Evliya Celebi, an Ottoman journeyman, describes the kebap as a horizontal bundle of meat.

Efendi Iskender from Bursa, in the 1860s, produced a new way of grilling the kebab vertically and then thinly sliced. The kebap originated and grew widespread in cities of eastern and southeastern Turkey and includes a long-standing variety of dishes belonging to the history of Turkish cuisine.

When visiting Istanbul, you don’t have to look far to find a wide variety of kebap or doner kebap dishes. The aroma of this Turkish cuisine wafts through the streets and simply calls out to you as you pass numerous restaurants that include them on their menu.


Below you’ll find answers to our frequently asked questions about the origin and history kebaps. If you like, you can also read up on the different types of kebaps or view more kebap FAQs.

Istanbul Kebaps History

The doner kebap originated in the Ottoman Empire. It started out as the cag kebab, stacks of seasoned sliced meat cooked on a horizontal rotisserie, which dates back to the 17th century. 

Bursa, which is just south of Istanbul is thought to be the birthplace of the vertical rotisserie used for today’s modern doner kebap. Its believed that it was invented sometime in the 19th century by Iskender Efendi of Iskender kebap fame or possibly Hamdi Usta from Kastamonu.

There’s nothing definitive in history, as the use of fire for cooking (790,000+ years ago) predates the pen and paper by many moons. In the Kitab al-Tabikh, a 10th-century Baghdadi cookbook there are descriptions of kabāb as cut-up meat, either fried in a pan or grilled over a fire. Stone supports for skewers however were unearthed in excavations of the ancient Minoan settlement of Akrotiri.

The ancient Indian text of Mahabharata and even Homer’s Iliad also mentioned pieces of meat roasted on spits which could be kebaps. Meat kebabs were also believed to have been grilled on swords by Nomadic tribesmen. In 17th-century Turkey, Evliya Celebi, an Ottoman journeyman, describes the kebeb as a horizontal bundle of meat which is long before the vertically skewed, Iskender Kebap, was made famous in the 19th century. 

So while there’s no definitive answer, kebaps have most likely been around a very, very long time. 

The vertical rotisserie was invented in the 19th-century Ottoman Empire and soon spread around the world. The Greek gyro, the Arab shawarma, Mexican al pastor, and Canadian donair are all kebap variations that use this type of rotisserie.