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The Ultimate Guide 

to Eating Döner in Berlin

Background

Summary: This guide aims to fill the information gaps around Döner in Berlin

When I first arrived in Berlin and began my ever-enduring quest for the best the Döner the city has to offer, I was struck by the lack of centralized info around what seemed to be Berlin’s most popular dish. The internet was and still is rife with outdated travel blogs and half-hearted Instagram accounts dedicated to trying every Döner in the city (that would be 1000+ by the way…), and these were, unfortunately, where a bulk of the information around Döner could be found.

 

The aim of Dönerstag is and always has been to provide Berlin’s visitors and locals a reliable guide to Berlin’s expansive Döner scene. Up until this point, I have attempted to do this through my reviews of Döner shops—almost all of which have been suggested to me by readers—which, like the previously mentioned blogs and Dönergrammers, have provided little in the way of clear-cut, centralized information in the same format. The aim of this page is to distill all that I know about Döner into a more concise, easily digestible format that anyone, visitor, resident or otherwise, can use to find great Kebap.

 

The History of Döner Kebap in Germany

The history of the Döner Kebap in Germany has long been a topic of disagreement among Döner aficionados. However, stacking meat on a spit and rotating it next to an open heat source to cook the meat had already been popular cooking method in Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries for several hundred years before arriving in Germany in the 1970’s. Who the first person to stuff the meat into bread with veggies and sauces to create the distinctly Turkish-German Döner Kebap that we know and love is, indeed, another topic. The prevailing theory is that a man by the name of Kadir Nurman invented Döner in the 1970’s at his West Berlin food stand when he stuff meat and mixed veggies into a flat bread. Herr Nurman has since passed away and his food stand is no longer in existence.

Hasir in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, has been said by other sources, including the restaurant’s owner, Mehmet Aygün, to have invented the Döner Kebap as we now know it, while still others have made the claim that a restaurateur named Nevzat Salim invented it in 1969 in Reutlingen, Germany.[1],[2]   

 

Types of Kebap ​in Berlin

Döner Kebab 

The Turkish word “Döner” really refers more to the turning motion of the spit on which the meat is cooked, and thus “Döner” does, to some extent, serve as an umbrella term for all the styles of Kebap around Berlin. The most common iteration of Döner, however, is that which is made from veal (“Kalbfleisch” in German) and spices. Though there may be additional styles that are eaten in Turkey, the two most common styles in Berlin are Yaprak (Turkish for “leaf”) and Kıyma (Turkish for “minced meat”) Döner. Yaprak is comprised of thin, “leaf”-like slices of meat that have been stacked on a spit, whereas Kıyma Döner is comprised of minced meat that has been mixed with spices and stacked between intermittently spaced slices of veal on a spit. Kıyma is visually distinct from Yaprak Döner, in that it is very smooth and does not really resemble meat and is by far the most common type of Döner in Berlin. The quality of each can range quite dramatically and can be divided in the following unofficial tier system, devised by Dönerstag:

  • Tier 1: The highest tier of Döner meat is anything that is prepared and stacked by the restaurant that is serving it. I would estimate that as few as 1% of Döner shops in Berlin (roughly 10 out of 1000+) stack their own meat, making Döner of this caliber exceedingly rare. A majority of the Döner in Tier 1 is Yaprak, although I know of at least one restaurant that stacks its own Kıyma Döner.

  • Tier 2: The middle tier is comprised of any Döner meat that is provided to the restaurant by an off-site production firm but that still meets the legal requirements of what can be called “Döner Kebap.” According to Dr. Volkmar Heinke, a food scientist at the Landesamt für Landwirtschaft, Lebensmittelsicherheit und Fischerei Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (State Office for Agriculture, Food Safety and Fisheries Mecklenburg-Vorpommern), in order to legally be called “Döner” or “Döner Kebab,” Döner meat cannot contain sausage meat, turkey or any unlisted additives such as glutamate (MSG).[3] While Tier 2 is seemingly the most prevalent in Berlin, much of Döner meat that is sold here likely actually falls into Tier 3, despite being labelled otherwise (See Note below). The Kıyma in this category tends to be made by grinding veal into a fine paste while incorporating additional fat and spices, before stacking it onto a spit and forming it with a large knife. The trimmings are repurposed for use in other batches.[4] Visually, it is an almost uniformly grayish-brown and is very smooth. Interestingly, the Döner meat in this category tends to turn a light, reddish-brown color when cooked, as opposed to the self-stacked meat of Tier 1, which turns a much darker brown.

  • Tier 3: The lowest tier is comprised of all of the Döner-like meat that does not meet the legal standard of what can be called “Döner” and must be labelled “Drehspieß” or “nach Döner art”. It can contain cheap fillers, such as sausage meat (“partially torn skeletal muscles, including vessels, nerves and fatty tissue”), turkey meat and/or others.1  As mentioned above, there is a high probability that much of the Döner served in Berlin falls into this tier, though I can only speculate (see Note below). I have only seen this tier openly mentioned once, and it was by a pizza restaurant in a town in Northwest Germany that serves a Döner pizza (see Image).

Gemüse Kebap

Gemüse Kebap has become a very popular option in Berlin, due at least in part to the enormous success of Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap, perhaps the world’s most famous Döner. “Gemüse,” which means vegetables in German, refers to the mix of fried veggies—usually some combination of potato, eggplant, carrot, sweet potato, and zucchini—that are packed alongside the other components of the sandwich. A typical Gemüse Kebap consists of fatty chicken thigh, sauce(s), fresh mint, fresh veggies (lettuce, tomato, cucumber) and fried veggies sprinkled with lemon juice, soft white cheese, and, often, dried oregano. Typically, the person cutting the meat will also squirt it with a thin brown sauce that is a closely held secret amongst Gemüse Kebap purveyors. Be careful when ordering Gemüse Kebap, as some places sell their Gemüse Kebap as a vegetarian option and call the version with chicken something like, “Chicken Gemüse Kebap,” or even, “Chicken Sandwich.

 
The Sauces

 

There are three sauces that almost every Kebap shop in Berlin offers: Kräuter, scharf, and Knoblauch.

 

  • Kräuter: Kräuter (German for “herbs”) sauce tends to be some combination of yoghurt, mayonnaise, dried herbs, and sugar. Most Döner joints in Berlin use a fairly sweet, mayo-based sauce mixed with dried herbs, though the more authentic and higher quality restaurants tend to use yoghurt-based sauces with fresh herbs and less, or no, sugar.  

  • Knoblauch: Knoblauch (German for “Garlic”) sauce is quite similar to Kräuter in its composition but also includes fresh or granulated garlic. It almost resembles ranch dressing in flavor. It is typically not used by the more authentic Döner shops but can be found most everywhere else.

  • Scharf: Scharf (German for “spicy”) sauce tends to vary the most in flavor, appearance and composition. Sometimes it is tan, creamy and mayo-based; sometimes it is a dark reddish-brown, sweet and syrupy; sometimes it is bright red paste that visually resembles sambal. In most cases, however, scharf sauce is almost devoid of heat, likely to appeal to the tastes of German consumers, whose cuisine tends not to be spicy. More authentic places tend to use a spicier, less sweet scharf sauce.

 

While they are far less common than the three aforementioned, other sauces that one could expect to find throughout the city include, but are probably not limited to: Sesame, mango, curry, tzatziki, hummus, cheddar cheese, and yoghurt.

 
What to Order

 

There are a several types of Döner shops, each of which offers a unique selection of foods of varying quality. Some, such as Imbiss (snack or fast food) shops, offer some combination of Döner, pizza, currywurst, schnitzel, chicken, burgers and French fries, while others focus on selling only Turkish foods such as Döner and Lahmacun (Turkish “pizza”). What one will consistently find, however, is that shops selling Döner will offer it in more than one form, namely im Brot, Dürüm, the Döner Box, and the Döner Teller.

  • Döner im Brot: The literal English translation of Döner im Brot is “Döner in the bread.” This is really your standard Döner option and usually consists of a pouch of toasted flatbread stuffed with meat and your choice of sauces and fresh vegetables (lettuce, pickled red cabbage, tomato cucumber salad or each separately, and white onion). In Gemüse Kebap, the toppings also include fried or grilled vegetables, crumbled cheese, fresh mint, lemon juice, and dried oregano.

  • Dürüm: A Dürüm is a Turkish wrap and usually contains the same filling as a Döner im Brot, though sometimes fries are also added. As their contents are fully enveloped by flatbread, they tend to be less messy than Döner im Brot and have a distinct chewy texture

  • Döner Box: The Döner box usually consists of French fries, Döner meat, and your choice of fresh veggies and sauce(s) served in a container that one might otherwise associate with Chinese takeout.

  • Döner Teller: Döner Teller means Döner plate in English, and usually refers to Döner meat served on a plate or in a to-go container with your choice of vegetables and sauces, and one or two sides, such as rice or French fries.

 

Most, if not all, Döner shops in Berlin sell a drink called Ayran that is essentially a mix of water, yoghurt, salt and sometimes fresh mint. It is somewhat of an acquired taste, but it pairs fantastically with a Döner Kebap and is incredibly addictive. There are quite a few places in Berlin that make Ayran in house, such as Kebap With Attitude—they source the yoghurt from a dairy farmer just outside of Berlin—which might serve the best in the city and Hasir in Kreuzberg.

 
Where to Eat Döner Kebap

 

Kebap With Attitude (K.W.A.) K.W.A. is currently my favorite Döner in the city. They serve one of, if not, the highest quality Kebap in all of Berlin and are extremely dedicated to maintaining that quality across all of their products. Their price point is higher than any other Döner shop in the city, but you really are getting what you pay for, as pretty much everything is homemade. K.W.A. is far from an average Döner joint and would not be the place to go if you, say, ate a lot of Döner while studying abroad in Germany and wanted to replicate that experience.

  • Go here if: you are looking for a dining experience that is more elevated than ordering at a window and eating your Kebap while sitting on a park bench or sidewalk.​

  • Avoid here if: you want to grab a quick, cheap bite to eat on your way from work or after a night out

 

Imren Grill. Imren is a Berlin institution that serves what is easily the city’s most divisive Kebap. They are rumored to marinate their meat in yoghurt and spices for 24 hours before stacking it and topping it with a crown of lamb fat. As the meat rotates, the lamb fat liquifies and runs over it, giving it a strong lamb flavor, that many find extremely off-putting. Imren makes everything in house, including their breads and sauces, and is the go-to Kebap shop for many of Berlin’s Turkish residents.

  • Go here if: you want a high quality Kebap that is closer than most other Döner in Berlin to what they eat in Istanbul​

  • Avoid here if: you want a Döner but do not like the taste of lamb, or if you are looking for a classic Berlin Döner Kebap

 

Tekbir Döner. Tekbir serves a very similar product to Imren, but with a more subdued lamb flavor and slightly different sauces. I, personally, prefer it over Imren.

  • Go here if: you don’t like the flavor of lamb and/or you want a high quality Kebap that is closer than most other Döner in Berlin to what they eat in Istanbul​

  • Avoid here if: you are looking for a classic Berlin Döner Kebap

 

Ugur Imbiss. Ugur Imbiss is the place I mentioned above—in the Döner Kebap section of this guide—that stacks their own Kıyma Döner. They also claim to make their own bread in the big stone oven behind the counter. It is probably the only place in the city I would travel to for this style of Kebab.

  • Go here if: you want a classic Berlin Döner without having to worry about the quality or what’s in the meat​

  • Avoid here if: you don’t like the sweet, mayo-heavy sauces used by most Döner shops

 

Hakiki. Hakiki really epitomizes the Berliner Döner. It is a very standard Berlin Döner Kebap that I, for some reason, just find irresistible. It is served in sesame-seed coated flat bread which accentuates certain bites with a mild sesame flavor.

  • Go here if: you want a classic Berlin Döner

  • Avoid here if: you want something special and/or higher quality

 
Where to Eat Gemüse Kebap

 

Rüyam and Rüya. These two are grouped because Rüyam is a copy of Rüya by the Ruya’s owner’s former landlord and their products and stores are almost identical. Rüyam is considered, by many, including myself, to be the best Chicken/Gemüse Kebab in all of Berlin and is probably in my top 10 sandwiches of all time. It should not be missed by anyone seeking a good Gemüse/Chicken Kebap. The sandwiches at Rüyam are quite large and one could probably feed two people, depending on how hungry each person is.  

  • Go here if: you want to try one of the best Kebap and maybe sandwiches in all of Berlin

  • Avoid here if: you just want a snack

Mustafa Demir’s Gemüse Kebap. There are a couple of Mustafa Demir’s around Berlin, but the original on Warschauer Straße has a different owner and is the best of the bunch. They stack their own spit daily and serve a wide variety of homemade sauces that fall outside of the normal selection, though they have those as well. According to my sources (see footnote), Mustafa claims to have invented the Gemüse Kebap back in the 90’s at the height of Mad Cow Disease, when guests were hesitant to eat normal veal Döner.[5]

  • Go here if: you want to try a superior Gemüse Kebap from its supposed birthplace or if you are tired of the same few sauces sold by most Döner shops

  • Avoid here if: you want a more relaxed, sit down dining experience

 

Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap. Yes, it is a separate place from Mustafa Demir’s. As mentioned in the Gemüse Kebab section, Mustafa’s is easily the most famous Kebap, Gemüse or otherwise, in Berlin and possibly the world. They serve a truly excellent Chicken Gemüse Kebap that draws daily lines, all year round.

  • Go here if: You are a Berlin resident and have never eaten at Mustafa’s or if you are a visitor who wants to eat there for the novelty of it

  • Avoid here if: You heard it’s the best Gemüse Kebap in the city or if you don’t feel like waiting in a long line

 
Note

A 2016 study by NDR (Norddeutscher Rundfunk) that tested the meat of randomly selected Döner shops in Hamburg revealed that 4 out of every 5 Döner tested did not meet this requirement, despite sellers advertising it as such. According to NDR, Döner shops often order the cheaper Döner alternative—that does not meet the legal requirements of what can be called Döner and that must be sold as “Drehspieß”—and illegally sell it as Döner or Döner Kebap. While this study, indeed, did not take place in Berlin, it does raise some questions about the content and quality of the many 2-3,50€ Döner Kebap sold around Berlin.

[1] “Der Döner Kommt Aus Schwaben.” HAZ, Verlagsgesellschaft Madsack GmbH & Co. KG, 16 July 2012, 13:33, www.haz.de/Nachrichten/Panorama/Uebersicht/Der-Doener-kommt-aus-Schwaben.

[2] https://berlinspectator.com/2020/05/26/made-in-berlin-the-best-doner-kebab-on-earth/

[3] Becker, Nadine, and Benjamin Cordes. “Häufig Fleischbrät Und Zusatzstoffe Im Döner.” NDR.de, Norddeutscher Rundfunk, 21 Nov. 2016, 6:00am, www.ndr.de/ratgeber/verbraucher/Haeufig-Fleischbraet-und-Zusatzstoffe-im-Doener,doener164.html.

[4] “Woraus Besteht Dönerfleisch?” Www.kabeleins.de, Kabel Eins, 29 Mar. 2016, www.kabeleins.de/tv/k1-magazin/videos/201613-woraus-besteht-doenerfleisch-clip.

[5] www.berlinfoodstories.com

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