Yes, just what indeed does the word ‘döner’ mean, Döner Fans? Although we all love this tasty snack, some enjoyers of the ‘meaty mistress’ (as she is sometimes known) are unaware of what the word actually means. Permit me a short lesson on Turkish grammar.
Döner is a Turkish word, based on the verb ‘dönmek’ meaning ‘turn’. Adding the grammatical ending ‘er’ to the stem ‘dön-’ signifies a characteristic action, therefore meaning something like ‘thing that turns’. The full Turkish term is ‘döner kebap’ or, more correctly, ‘döner kebabı’, more or less meaning ‘the kebab that turns’. Fascinating!
While the döner is of course the superior meal, related snacks also exist in the form of gyros and shawarma. Gyros, similarly, is Greek for ‘turn’, while shawarma is most likely an Arabic adoption of another Turkish word ‘çevirme’ [chev-ear-may] which also means ‘turn’. Fancy that, Döner Fans!
In the olden days, before the vertical rotisserie was invented in the 19th century, people in the Ottoman Empire used to roast their meaty snacks horizontally over hot coals or a fire, a tradition that is still carried on today in the eastern Turkish province of Erzurum. However, it was the great man İskender Efendi who developed the vertical grill which was to change the face of rotisserie cuisine forever. It is him we have to thank for the rotating meat-stick of joy that now graces our kebab-houses, and he even lent his name to a particularly delicious variety of döner meal: the iskender kebab, still associated with his home city of Bursa where it is considered a local delicacy.
So there you have it: the simple beauty behind the word ‘döner’, and a little background information to help you place it in its historical context. I hope that answered your questions, Döner Fans!
Images courtesy of Wikipedia