Tuesday, March 14, 2006

CBC and donairs: two of my favourite things

With all the discussion about our armed forces in Afghanistan, the death of Slobodan Milosevic, the lack of work on my thesis, and the personal soap opera drama going on in my program, you'd think the last thing I'd be blogging about would be donairs...but here I am, anyways.

Now, for those not from Queen's or Halifax, you may wonder, what's a donair? As a quick overview, it's slices of this meat concoction shaved off a stick (beef, bread crumbs, spices), seared, topped with tomatoes, onions, donair sweet sauce (which makes or breaks the donair, personally) and all wrapped in a pita WAY too small for the amount it has to hold. Consequently, eating it is a mess, but is it oh so delicious (especially after a night of drinking)!

I was first introduced to one on such an occasion in 3rd year I think and I absolutely loved it. I was told by someone whom I've forgotten since that the donair originated in Halifax. So when I had the opportunity to go there and the rest of Nova Scotia for field work, I obviously had to treat myself to some donair from its birthplace. Of course, the donairs there ARE so much better. And some Haligonians I had met there did further argue that donairs were indeed born in their fine city.

Returning to Kingston, some of my friends and colleagues were convinced that the donair WAS NOT invented in Halifax, but surmised that it was merely an imported Lebanese delicacy. I remained skeptical of their claim but my belief was never rock solid.

Until I watched the CBC National tonight. The last story was about John Kamoulakos of Halifax, the man the story claims to have invented the donair but is now retiring after 37 yrs of serving this messy treat. While Mr. Kamoulakos' came up with the unique recipe of meat + the specific donair sweet sauce, the possible source of uncertainty lies in its resemblance to a gyro, which uses lamb and tzatziki instead. Since he never patented the meat and sweet sauce (though from the piece, it seems like no one has at all), his claims of inventing the food are just that. This is, however, the first discussion I've ever heard about the origin of donairs not by word of mouth, but by an organization as reputable as the CBC. Therefore, until someone brings me some solid evidence that this gastronomic delight can be found outside of Canada, I am inclined to believe that Mr. Kamoulakos truly is the inventor of this piece of Haligonian cuisine.

As for more serious blogging...well, maybe after a donair.

Update: Courtesy of the Daily News, which I linked to in the post:

THE ORIGIN OF THE DONAIR

It’s 1971: Greek gyros weren’t popular with Nova Scotians, recalled John Kamoulakos. So, Peter Gamoulakos had to come up with something new. Lamb became beef. Tzatziki became a sweet donair sauce. And a new meal was created. Selling from a store on the Bedford Highway, an impressed customer asked Peter what the new creation was. Not wanting to call it a gyro, Peter looked around and saw on the spit the word “Doner.” And so it started.

9 comments:

Gregory said...

Actually... King of Donair in Halifax was the birthplace of the Donair for Canada, and as far as I recall it wasn't 1971 in Canada, but the early 70s. The actual birthplace is in Berlin, Germany and I can say this being a Canadian Citizen who has been to Germany. Turkish immigrants in Berlin created it.. it is a turkish meal.

Jeffrey Dornan said...

When I worked for Armdale Pizza, my boss took me to his friend's place in Bedford called Velo's. It was after closing, and after a round of Ouzo, they made a big production out of making me a meal using wierd-looking brand new equipment (now familiar to everyone). I had never seen anything like it before. As the Greeks all watched intently, I tentatively (at first) dove into my first ever donair. I was the first non-greek to eat a donair in Canada

Jeffrey Dornan said...

I think it was 1974.

Anonymous said...

It's turkish by origin... and yes it's even called Donair (actually pronounced doner) world wide.

Anonymous said...

You can't patent a recipe, idiot.

Tailith Sky said...

your site was quoted as a source here - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gyro_(food)
I agree, Donairs are made the same way in Calgary only the sauce is not made with canned milk as so many recipes say. Wish I knew what exactly it was, maybe water sour cream fresh garlic and cane sugar. Even more I wish I knew what spices this fellow uses. The best donairs in Calgary can be found on 7th ave and 1st st sw. Amazing potatoe cakes too.

Geno Stachio said...

Actually it was not king of Donair it was velos that introduced the Donair which later sold to king of Donair and that is how they claim it.

Unknown said...

Actually you are all wrong. Since it is very difficult to prove or disprove the kamoukalos or velos are the originators of the nova scotia donair. We shall never know however to claim he invented it is an insult to all the Donair makers in nova scotia who were making Donair at the exact same time as they were. For example I know that Lebanese pizza shops and restuarants in Cape Breton were making Donair as far back as 1970 as well because I ate them during that time there and with the introduction of the upright spit into nova scotia during the late 60s early 70s to probably every pizza shop in nova scotia it's not as far fetched to think that it may have spontaneously been created in many places in nova scotia during the same time period that velos and kamoukslis claim they invented it. Most Lebanese and Greek etc were familiar with gyros and done so why not adapt it to nova Scotia tastes by experimentation? Either way their claim is just a guess until someone does some real research on the subject I will leave up to you to decide.

Bill Macintyre said...

Actually you are all wrong. Since it is very difficult to prove or disprove the kamoukalos or velos are the originators of the nova scotia donair. We shall never know however to claim he invented it is an insult to all the Donair makers in nova scotia who were making Donair at the exact same time as they were. For example I know that Lebanese pizza shops and restuarants in Cape Breton were making Donair as far back as 1970 as well because I ate them during that time there and with the introduction of the upright spit into nova scotia during the late 60s early 70s to probably every pizza shop in nova scotia it's not as far fetched to think that it may have spontaneously been created in many places in nova scotia during the same time period that velos and kamoukslis claim they invented it. Most Lebanese and Greek etc were familiar with gyros and done so why not adapt it to nova Scotia tastes by experimentation? Either way their claim is just a guess until someone does some real research on the subject I will leave up to you to decide.