There's much more to kebabs that grabbing a sweaty donner at 3am after a night out and spewing it up again around 10 minutes later.
Not only are there about a million different variations of the bloody things, Manchester is seemingly finding itself in a kebab revolution, with posh ones popping up all over the shop and traditional kebab houses bashing out some seriously good fare.
Now, every bloke in the world probably thinks he knows where to get the best kebab in the world. If they’re a bit posh they’ll say Berlin, if it’s a bloke down the pub they’ll say the cheapest and closest kebab shop to their house, and if it’s anyone from Oldham they’ll say Star Kebabs & Pizza on Yorkshire Street.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you where to buy your kebabs. Buy ’em wherever the fuck you want. But if you’re looking for something perhaps a little different, hoping to uncover a hidden gem or just want to know more about what you’re shovelling into your gob – give this a read…
Reading the history and origins of kebabs reads like a very long and very contentious tale, mostly revolving around the Ottoman Empire, the Middle East and Greece, and their various pronunciations of what typically amounts to the same thing.
Many people say that there is no difference between a Shawarma, Donner and a Gyros, all while another gang of commenters are quickly sharpening their machetes and counteracting these claims. Well I don’t feel like getting in the middle of all of this so I’ll just treat them separately.
Traditionally a Shawarma is the Arabic version of the kebab, sliced meat that is cut off a spit, placed in a flatbread alongside some salad and sauce. A Shawarma in the olden days would usually mean a plate of lamb or mutton, but now can incorporate anything including chicken, beef, turkey and even vegetables – usually featuring the spices that are unique to Shawarma – mainly cinnamon, coriander, cumin, ginger and turmeric.
If you’re looking for a posh bit of Shawarma, you can’t go wrong with one of the excellent kebabs down at Mor Mor in Hatch. They serve up a signature chargrilled Chicken Shawarma made with 48-hour marinated chicken thigh using their own secret blend of herbs and spiced. It’s then thrown on top of a freshly coal-baked Kurdish naan on a bed of hummus, fatoush salad and tzatziki.
Simply the city’s ‘go to’ place for kebabs though must surely be the Northern Quarter’s BAB – who proudly proclaim to fling out “kebabs worth sitting down for”. They’re not wrong either, with a dazzling array of kebabs on offer.
From their traditional Lamb Adana and Aleppo Chicken, to more outlandish creations, such as a Chip Shop Halloumi number with chip shop curry on it, and a new ‘Tapas’ kebab with everything you’d find on your dinner table whilst on your holidays in Torremolinos – crispy calamari, patatas bravas, padron peppers, chorizo.
Something a bit rougher round the edges would be Atlas Shawarma on the Curry Mile, who have some of the best kebabs in Manchester – all served up on bread that will make you want to spit in Jonathan Warburton’s face for denying you such pleasure all these years.
Always getting a mention would be Venus Foods on the cusp of Longsight and Fallowfield, and the wonder that is Levenshulme Bakery – a place where you can grab a super tasty, fresh kebab at 10am when you should be eating a bowl of Frosties.
I thought the next step in this kebab expedition should be on kebabs that you veggies or vegans can tuck into – because let’s face it, you shouldn’t miss out either. The Kebab Kings of old may spin in their graves to know that these vegan creations are being referred to as kebabs but fuck ’em – times are a-changing and there’s nowt wrong with that.
The last 12 months or so has seen a huge influx of vegan kebabs into the city – many utilising technology that even Buck Rogers would be confused by. In fact, if you’re a vegan, you’ve probably got even more choice of excellent shawarma and donner in the city centre than if you were a meat-eater – such is the quality of what’s available nowadays.
First up is relative newcomer What the Pitta in the Northern Quarter, an award-winning vegan döner meat that came about from owners Cem Yildiz and Rojdan Gul who were on holiday in Turkey and decided to see what all this “vegan fuss” was all about.
They returned home, built a laboratory, hired Professor Wheetos, sacked him because he was always taking cereal breaks and then came up with their homemade kebab ‘meat’ all by themselves.
Another firm favourite in the NQ is Alvarium, where chef Grace Stubbs has also been hard at work creating her own vegan kebab delights, this time using wonder-fruit Jackfruit, spiced to perfection and then stuffed into a flatbread with some pickled cabbage, tahini and all of your favourite kebab shop salads.
Down at Plant Grill in Escape to Freight Island you can get yourself an outstanding fermented celeriac shawarma, whilst down at YES you’ll find the excellent Doner Summer and their overflowing Berlin sandwiches and loaded kebab fries.
Also worth a mention must be the truly wonderful Paneer & Mushroom Tikka Kebab from Bundobust, which is a dish that is so packed full of flavour it’s a must for any visit. They BBQ paneer, mushrooms and peppers and then coat it in a superbly spicy red pepper ketchup. It’s brilliant.
A firm favourite for all of their kebabs (meat or not) are Panicos in Chorlton, who alongside a range of brilliant Shish, Shwarma and Kofte kebabs serve up a bloody brilliant Halloumi Kebab and some juicy falafel numbers. Speaking of falafel, I’ve always been a fan of everything that Falafel in Rusholme serve up, as well as Go Falafel in the city.
Something of a rarity around these parts, you always know a good kebab shop when you see that they’re serving up these meaty, magnificent bastards. Traditionally served up on a bed of rice, they are truly better appreciated on some soft, crispy bread and preferably eaten in bed while watching Critters on Channel 5.
An Iranian speciality, the kobeda is a twice minced mixture of lamb (or beef) with garlic, pepper, celery powder, egg and finely grated onion, all shaped onto a metal skewer and cooked over hot coals.
They are a taste sensation and certainly worth searching around for. I’ve had the pleasure of tucking into some great ones in the past, including one at the world-famous Rusholme Chippy, Sanam (just opposite) and most recently – Persian Tasty Grill in Levenshulme.
Here we go. The meat that can make someone either gag or dribble depending on their experiences – donner meat is something that can divide the nation quicker than Brexit, but something everyone should try at least once.
As a growing lad one of my first experiences with Donner meat was a rather unfortunate dabble at Leo’s Fish Bar on Oldham Street, which nearly ruined the whole thing for me. Luckily my next trip to Kebab Land was to the aforementioned Star Kebabs & Pizza which quickly set me up for a life of Donner heaven.
Donner Kebabs aren’t that much different to Shawarma kebabs, except they originate from Turkey and have a different name. Another major difference is that the meat here is finely ground up with spices and then shaped around a spit to then be cooked vertically.
Now, if you ignore all of those stories about that geezer finding a bin full of sliced up cats and pigeons round the back of Rusholme, you’ll know that Donner meat is lamb and obviously the more lamb that’s in there – the better the kebab is going to taste.
Getting ready for a backlash, here are my favourite places for a donner. Feel free to let me know how wrong I am in the comments, except I won’t read them because I’m a very stubborn man and my mind is made up.
Right – Janam on Portland Street do an excellent donner. As does that place in Chorlton that won that big award a few years back – Turkish Delight – and of course Shamnah in Swinton who serve up some of the biggest kebabs in Manchester.
The last couple of years have also seen an influx into Manchester of ‘Berlin Doner’ joints, offering up something you’d find being sold in those cracking Turkish joints in the German capital.
Popularised by the city’s workforce in the 70s, the Berlin-style kebab is characterised as more of a type of sandwich, fresh wedges of bread stuffed to the brim with spicy donner meat, salad and tonnes of sauces.
Of course Indian cuisine features its own take on the kebab – the Seekh – found in pretty much all curry shops everywhere between John O Groats and Lands’ End. Typically made of lamb, there are endless creations to be made, all you need to do is mince something up, shape it around a skewer and throw it into the tandoori oven and you’ve got a Seekh.
There are around a million places in and around the city where you can get your hands on some fantastic Seekh kebabs. Just near the Finest office is the excellent Cafe Marhaba, who have their tandoor on all day – banging out probably the cheapest and fittest kebabs in the NQ.
For fresh, flame-grilled seekh wonders, head on down to Zouk just off Oxford Road where they marinate their meats for hours and fire up their coals at 11am every morning. Their juicy Lamb Seekh Kebabs are nigh on unbeatable in the city, absolutely sublime sat on a fluffy Tandoori-cooked naan, a load of salad and some rice.
I should also mention some of the excellent places in the NQ, including Kabana and Al-Faisal who have weathered the gentrification of the area by just throwing amazing kebabs at everything and coming out smiling on the other side.