Full disclosure: kebabs actually didn’t originate in Austria, or even in Europe. However, I would not be doing justice to myself if I didn’t start this new series off without my favorite food common in Vienna. And common it is – kebab joints and stands seem to be more popular than hamburgers or even traditional Austrian Würstel (sausage) stands. If you’ve never tried a kebab, you may think that’s strange. How can a Turkish delicacy become more common in Europe than a lot of European food?
Because it’s amazing, that’s why.
Below is what’s technically called a Döner Kebab. The Döner part specifies that the meat (most commonly lamb) is roasted on a vertical, rotating spit. This process has other names, like the Arabic shawarma or the Greek gyro, but the Turkish/Austrian hybrid is its own special masterpiece. The lamb is shaved off the spit, packed into a warm pita roll or other flatbread, and topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, yoghurt sauce and chili.
Other versions exist, with maybe extra vegetables like cabbage or a different sauce, but what I just described is the classic. It’s the one you’ll find at every kebab stand in Vienna, of which you find a ton. You never need to walk more than five minutes before you come across another, and at some subway or tram stops, 2-4 stands are sometimes grouped all together, all competing to serve the best combination of meat, vegetables and bread.
How does it taste? I find it best on a cold day, when the warm bread and meat are accented by the spiciness of the chili, but cooled down by the tomatoes and yoghurt sauce. You may think I should be ashamed that my favorite Viennese food is actually Turkish, but Turkish culture and cuisine – most notably the kebab – have become so ingrained in Viennese culture the past 50-100 years that buying a kebab is just as normal for an Austrian as buying a Schnitzel or a Käsekrainer (I’ll get to those later).
There is one other common version, in case you want all the insides without the sometimes ungainly pita flatbread. A Dürüm kebab is the same meat and vegetables but instead wrapped inside a Lavash, a very soft, thin bread that is basically a tortilla. Also good, with an advantage of sometimes being able to hold a bit more meat and vegetables.
I’m very strategic about my kebabs. I’m going to go eat one now.