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Category: Turkish

Turkish Donair

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I don’t know much about the Turkish culture, but wanted to find out what made these donairs different from all the others. Today we were at “Turkish Donair” for a quick bite, the only shoppe serving donairs in this area of North Burnaby. My partner has been before and decided it would be as adequate of a place as any other to have lunch at.

I try not to judge a book by its cover or a restaurant by its exterior, but it is hard not to when the place looks run down. The awning was caked with grime. What was once a black covering with yellow font was now stained a mossy green mess. Though considering that this didn’t deter anyone else from entering, why should it me? I would soon find out.

The front window and sandwich board helped to convey everything they offered in clear photos and precise words. Pitas wrapping either Halal meats or the vegetarian falafel. “Halal” refers to any object or action that is permissible to use or engage in according to Islamic law. The term covers and designates not only food and drink but also all matters of daily Islamic life. “Falafel” is a deep-fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas, fava beans, or both. It is a traditional Middle Eastern food.

The restaurant held a narrow space. On one side the counter to order and prepare food behind, and across from it several mirrors mounted on the wall. The mirrors helped to give the room the illusion of depth and breath. The black counter was manned by the lone shop’s owner/only employee. It was decorated with spray painted vegetables: tomatoes, lettuce, olives, cucumber, and rings of raw onions. What followed was a picture of a completed donair with all the ingredients above, tucked neatly in to a warm pita. Above it was a half empty chip rack and to its side a fully empty refrigerated display case. I don’t know if the barren fixtures were because it was Sunday in the early afternoon and they would be closing soon. But I do know it made it seem like the shoppe was going out of business. An empty display case dressed with clean dishes and tongs and cake trays with lids holding nothing but air. At least the can and bottled beverage fridge was well stocked. The above could also be probable because they use to sell more sides and snacks, but those sides and snacks were never very popular. So they ended up being more cost than profit to make; to have available, and to not sell. Therefore they were discontinued. Though if that was the case they should just clear it all out and make room for some more appropriate seating.

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The less functional portion of the restaurant was a very ethnic attempt at interior decorating. I will not be able to call specific items by their names, but can none-the-less describe what I saw and how it all made me feel. Towards the back, a set of side tables and chairs stood. They differed from the ones used for dining closer to the door. The arrangement felt like it belonged in someone’s home. It seemed like the space was designated more for the owner’s friends to come and hang out in, then for actual restaurant seating. Side tables to rest drinks on and chairs with armrest for extended periods of sitting. Two small television sets sat in opposite corners. One was tuned to Arabic news, it offered the only noise in the otherwise quite restaurant. Artificial potted plants, assorted frames commemorating various photos, and antique looking clocks and wall pieces in wood and metal crowded the area. Most curious was the wall mounted wire wine rack, it carried a plastic bottle of Brisk ice tea instead of its intended glass bottle of wine. One table had a printed fabric laid over it, a leather piece decorated with a multitude if watercolour. We weren’t comfortable dining in this portion of the room and only considered the bar by the window or the two top tables across from the counter. The thought of hunching over and eating off of tables at knee height was not too appealing. Nor were we very comfortable with dripping juices on to the fabric table covering above.

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You order from the three menus above the counter. The first menu divided the chicken, lamb, and beef donair options from one another. Essentially it was the same array of ingredients across the board, but you change up the protein in each. Six donair flavours influenced by four different cuisine types. The secondary menus offer the same flavours as a platter or as a combo. A deconstructed donair: meat over rice with a side of salad and pita. Or a fully filled and wrapped pita with a side of rice or salad. Essentially they increase their menu listing by offering the same ingredients in different applications. Clever, though at the same time less can be more for such a business. I recommend that they bring it down to one menu and simply do six dishes the best they can. Maybe then I would have actually enjoyed what I had.

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Because there was only just the owner working the front counter, a few guests left, being put off by the minimal wait. It ended up being better for us as our position in line moved up. He was very friendly. With a smile on his face he informed us they were out of chicken. We were disappointed. How could that be? At 2pm, and with chicken being one of the most popular proteins. Though considering they were also out of toilet paper for the whole restaurant, I guess it wasn’t really that big of a surprise.

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The difference between a large and a small donair was pretty obvious upon comparison. I had the small, as after describing what I saw I was not to optimistic about the food.

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I chose the “Lebanese Beef”, deciding that it would be the most flavourful given its use of sauces and spreads like tabaulah, hommous, and tzatziki; along with tomatoes, onions, and lettuce. The “Greek” with olive, feta, and tzatziki would have been my second choice. The wax bag wrapped and twisted at the bottom of the falafel was a food idea. Not only did it save my fingers from the inevitability of juice running down them, but it held the wrap together until I got to the bottom. The beef had a spongy texture and wasn’t as good as I had hoped. It would have been better with a shredded texture. It was definitely not fresh, but that was probably because it was reheated in the microwave. You could hear the beep to set it, the closing of the plastic door, and the ding-ing of the bell to indicate it was done. I immediately thought, isn’t the point of such places to have the meat cook on the spit, and for the fragrance to waft in the air and attract customers in? I guess they just weren’t busy enough or a large enough operation for fresh food made to order. In my wrap, I missed the hommous and didn’t get enough tzatziki for taste. At this point I could have used a dish of each for dipping in to. The creamy hommous paste, would have not only given things more flavour, but it would have made this wrap more filling. When eating it, I was missing that hearty substance feeling. A void the unripened slices of tomato and excessive amount of lettuce stem was unable to fill. There was a lot more lettuce than necessary, so much so that we ended up digging most out as we ate our way down.

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My parter ordered the “Maritimer Beef”, not being able to have chicken. He liked the sweetness of the sauce included, but decided it was not complimentary to the spicy beef. Like my falafel above it too came with pale tomatoes and too much lettuce. He had passed on hot sauce, which was a mistake. It needed more flavour, another layer, another element to give it some kick. Crispy fried onions or a tangy slaw. Though both really wouldn’t be very Turkish. I would have been nice to have some tzatziki in this one too, a mix of sweet and tangy, it surely needed something else as it tasted incomplete.

When the crowd had filtered out and all orders had been made, the owner sat behind the bar to watch television. Something that isn’t too professional, but for a small shop like this I don’t mind. However he decided to turn the volume up to combat against the already loud buzzing of the refrigeration equipment. It made our conversations difficult, the need to talk over the voices coming from the television. That and we felt like we had to be quiet so that he could watch his tv in peace. This was definitely not the greatest of eating environments. However we were here to eat and go so tried to pay no mind.

As I made mention to earlier, my attempt to use the single stall washroom was foiled without the presence of toilet paper. I search through all the cupboards before asking, but he had indeed run out. Guess they don’t have many female patrons using their facilities or anyone using it at all. The owner had offered to run and get some, but I rather not have waited. The experience was mildly salvaged by his kind demeanour and friendly nature.

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
If I was just ranking service, this review would be different. Despite the intention for an easy grab and go snack, our meal was unsatisfying. I rather not return as I can find far better donairs else where. Or simply choose something else in the neighbourhood. Sadly I have had much better an will travel much farther for it before coming back here. I say “sadly” because the owner was so nice and he made up from the greviences above. I would consider coming back just to support him if it wasn’t for the pungent lingering taste I had in my mouth after I finished eating. I craved a palette cleanser all the way to the nearest gas station to use the washroom. Don’t deny your cravings.

TURKISH DONAIR
4066 Hastings Street, Burnaby BC, V5C2J3
778-371-0371
Turkish Donair on Urbanspoon

Donair Stop

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This is the most franchise-able donair place I have ever seen. Located on the prominent corner of Granville and Smithe, it was eye catching, well lit, and brightly painted. Their logo, a white trimmed red stop sign with “DS” in its centre, was enough to have me stopping in my tracks. Here this Eastern Mediterranean specialty is repackaged in an North American style, for our Canadian palette. Ethnic fast food food with flare. A catchy name and a simple logo, that even had the Rudolph drawing in the window smiling. There was nothing ethnic specific about the place. Other donair shoppes use traditional names and authentic props to play up their exotic nature. No hookas and no tribal-like music, just a simple shop serving wraps and donairs, with the ever popular North American side of fries. There is even the possibility of making each donair a combo for $2.95 more. This includes a canned drink with your choice of either lentil soup or a bag of chips.

For those who don’t know, the “donair” is a Turkish dish made with meat cooked vertically on a rotisserie-like grill. The meat is often carved by knife into thin layers, right on the spit. They are also widely known by their Arabic name “shawarma”, or as the Greek “gyros”.

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With the restaurant’s doors opened wide it looked inviting. The small line visible from across the intersection was enough of a reassurance that the place was good, but not long enough to deter those unwilling to wait. And if that and the delicious smells didn’t attract you in, the sandwich boards advertising free fries and the possibility of making your wrap or donair gluten free certainly had you taking a second look. The latter a relief for those with the specific dietary restrictions, as well as for those with growing health concerns.

The shop is small. Right by the door is a tiny seating area. A corner table by the window, and another two able to seat a larger group if pushed together. Given the practical cafeteria like seating: picnic tables with benches, this isn’t meant to be a sit and linger type of restaurant. You eat in and go or take out and go. I imagine their cuisine most popular amongst teens on a budget, and those out late after hard drinking and heavy dancing. This evening’s tables were filled with resting shoppers. Those who sat with their large bags and big purchases, seeking to save a little during dinner.

To the left, the wall is papered in red advertising their “authentic gourmet food”. Against it a cooler for canned soft drinks, a rice cooker, and shelves housing boxes and styrofoam for take out.

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Right at the entrance you are greeted by the counter, you approach it to order. The menu is a list three panels wide. It requires the arching of your neck and a look up to take it all in. Donairs, wraps, rice plates, or salads and sides. Each offering includes your choice of protein or vegetarian substitute, and their suggested variations. All the meats are advertised as being organic. The donair is titled as being “Halifax style”. Researching on the term, I discovered that the donair scene is pretty big in Halifax, with many fans making it their own. I would soon see this here, with their line up of possible ingredients to accompany the traditional meat and bread dish. Donair flavours are either beef, chicken; or “falafel”, their vegetarian option. Wraps were mostly made with chicken, with the possibility of substituting in beef for the “buffalo chicken” flavour. The chicken wraps came in Caesar, tropical, chipotle, Thai chilli (spelled “chilly”, a purposeful type-o?) and buffalo. Rice plates offered the same meats as above or falafel instead. “Falafel” is a deep fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas, fava beans, or both. Your choice protein is served with rice, salad, pita, and your choice of sauce: tzatziki or hummus. Salad are available in Caesar, Greek, and Tabouli. “Tabouli” is a vegetarian salsa traditionally made of tomatoes, finely chopped parsley, mint, and onion. Then seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. 

Either of the it two men working side by side take your order. They prepare wraps one after another, alternating between guests. Efficient as one builds the wrap, the other chargers their customer. Past them you can see the traditional donair set up. Slabs of meat rotating on a spit backed by stainless steel. Here either chicken or beef is kept warm as they spin round and round. Using a knife the meat is carved as needed right into a pocket of dough. After committing to a donair you look down behind the glass. Down at the multiple metal trays filled to the brim with colourful and fresh ingredients. Most are on the healthier side, like the variety of raw and pickled vegetables.

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I choose the beef donair over the chicken. I often find most fast food chicken is prepared too dry. And I also prefer dark meat, but more often get the commonly used and mostly preferred white breast meat. So I have learned not to gamble and stick with beef over chicken, beef that I know will be tasty. However I was given chicken by accident. A fact I didn’t clue into seeing the darker and heavily seasoned scraps of meat. A fact that was announced only when the donair was done and being extended to me. The server caught his mistake and was more than prepared to make me another. However I decided to accept it as is to not cause trouble and to not have to wait for another. Plus a lot of work goes into crafting one. To compensate for the mistake his coworker winked that he would give me extra fries instead. Completely unnecessary, but a nice touch none-the-less.

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The assembly begins with a pita being split into two width wise, to form a pocket. The seasoned and shredded near goes in first. Everything else that follows is up to you. Think “Subway” but with a wrap. I took everything but the hot colourful jalapeño peppers. A grilled chicken donair with hummus, shredded lettuce, carrots and beets; red onion, tabouli, tomato wedges, cucumber slices, pineapple triangles, pickles, and tzatziki sauce. For sauces you choice is between regular mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, an herbed vinaigrette, chipotle mayo, garlic mayo, and hot sauce. I went with my usual favourite: Chipotle mayo. Cheese is unnecessary and extra for $1. Another very North American influence, like the condiments before. Either a shredded mozzarella and cheddar blend or feta. Feta was recommended and that’s what I went with. Once assembled the bundle is wrapped and pressed to keep its shape and toasted to give it warmth. It reminds me of a calzone or pizza pocket, but less stable. 

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This was one of the largest hand helds I have had for under $9. Packaged like a box, I lifted the top to see a well arranged and well stacked slew of ingredients. Colourful, fresh, and full of exciting flavours. As with most similar bread wrapped fresh fixings, there is a need to eat quickly. Taking your time results in the bread getting soggy and everything falling out the bottom. Mine started with purple beet dyed juice drippings, that was pretty for what it was. Then less than mid way through my donair broke in the middle. Half the meat fell out, and I found myself eating the rest with a spoon. Luckily I didn’t attempt to eat and walk, but waited to take out and sit down. Things got messy as I got in there with hands creamy and mouth gaping. Not one bite was boring as you got a different seasoning, another sauce, a new vegetable’s texture at each go. What I found most surprisingly enjoyable was the sweetness of the pineapple. It was a nice twist, a surprise pop of juice and sugar. I would have liked the onions chopped finer though. At one point I bit into a slice the size of a baby’s fist. That wasn’t a great bite. Overall no complaints. Delicious and filling I couldn’t take it all in one sitting, nor would I have been able to salvage any of it as leftovers. I finished belly full and hands lingering with the smell of donair. I needed a breath mint to cleanse my palate of the pickles, onion, cilantro, and tzatziki fighting for supremacy. 

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Any purchase of a wrap or donair earns you a free side of thick cut fries. It was a familiar plus, and as I mentioned earlier I got more than usual. The fries are deep fried to order, and if eaten in, served along side the wrap in a plastic basket. If taken out bagged in brown paper. These were proper English style chips according to my British colleague. They were toasty on the outside with a crispness to the skin; and melty and soft in the middle, almost like mashed potatoes. Good and salty, as they should be. I preferred them without ketchup.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
What I had was good, it is not something I would want often, but instead one of those specific cravings that could only be quelled with the perfect donair. As a believer of more the better and most is best, I was trilled to have over fourteen different ingredients available to me in this one meal. With all these options you can have your way, or be like me and get more bang for your buck by having it all. And for regular diners all the possible combinations would give you endless flavour pairings. I would line up for this because I know the wait wouldn’t be long. Donairs are a fast food option healthy and heartier than any chain, at the same cost. Don’t deny your cravings.

DONAIR STOP
898 Granville Street, Vancouver BC, V6B2C9
604-910-5925
Donair Stop on Urbanspoon

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