Wanted: Authentic Döner Kebabs on the Main Line

Doner Kabob at a small shop in Berlin.

Bratwurst, Schweinshaxe and Schwarzwalter Kirschtorte were just some of the famous dishes we dreamt of eating during a recent trek through Germany. And, they were all amazing. But it was one unexpected dish that topped it all: the humble döner kebab.

Berlin is sprawling, bustling and very metropolitan. And just like New York City, you can walk into an unassuming place and have an unbelievable meal.

Versions of döner kebabs exist all over the world, but its meat, preparation and sauces all vary from region to region. Here, we are most familiar with the gyro. But in Germany, a large number of Turkish immigrants have shaped the immense popularity of the döner. Today it’s the country’s most popular form of street food.

Seeking to recreate those bites of culinary bliss, I recently visited Kabab Café in Wayne. Far, a member of the family who owns the place, lived in Germany for five years, and didn’t seem surprised by my questions. “The döners taste better in Germany than in Turkey,” he said with a laugh.

Doner Kebab at Kabab Cafe in Wayne.

He defined the difference in preparation for me, “The traditional döner kebab in Germany is made with fresh, whole cuts of meat that are layered on the spit, cooked and then sliced. Instead of wrapping the meat around a whole pita, Germans stuff the meat in a pita pocket, adding extra sauces and a variety of fresh salads.” Traditional Greek gyros are also sliced off the spit, but the meat is usually made from spiced lamb and beef that is ground and then pressed into the log-like shape.

Apparently, I’m not the only one obsessed. Far told me that people constantly come in and requesting this style of kebab. In fact, Kabab Café originally tried to offer the German version, but ran into some operational challenges. While the meat served at this spot, located in the Gateway shopping center, is technically Greek, you can get the feel for a German-style kebab. When we visited, I ordered the cucumber – tomato salad and cucumber-yogurt sauce on the side, and added it to my döner for a more authentic taste.

It’s the whole cuts of meat, and bright, fresh salads that make the German-style kebab a bit healthier, adding to its appeal. Why not make it at home? On a recent evening, I roasted marinated chicken breast, sliced it thin; and served it with fresh pita bread and a variety of vegetables: chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and thinly-sliced cabbage. Plain Greek yogurt infused with the juice of a lemon, cumin, garam masala, salt and pepper was the generous topping. While it didn’t transport us to Berlin, we were left pretty satisfied here in Berwyn.

Here are more places to explore: