"Ingenious herd of charcoal fire"

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From the menu of the Istanbul Kebab House near Times Square in New York City:

Putting aside the possibility that the author is a frustrated poet forced by parental pressure into the restaurant business, we can conclude that "vertical split" for "vertical spit" is an L2 malapropism, and that the reference to "ground" in place of "sliced" meat is a similar simple confusion about what "ground" means. But what about that "ingenious herd"?

The device in question is described in the Wikipedia article for doner:

The more common and authentic method is to stack marinated slices of lean lamb meat onto a vertical skewer in the shape of an inverted cone. The meat is cooked by charcoal, wood, cast iron, electric, or, unpreferably, gas burners. The doner stack is topped with fat (mostly tail fat), that drips along the meat stack when heated.

Perhaps the author was translating a phrase meaning something like "charcoal brazier", but focusing on the pile of charcoal rather than on the pan or tray for holding it? Does anyone know enough Turkish to guess what that might have been?

[Tip of the hat to David Donnell.]


  1. Ronald Kyrmse said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 8:35 am

    Maybe the Turkish owner came to the US from Germany, where döner (spelled with an o-umlaut) is a very popular fast food. Of Turkish origin, of course. "Herd" in German means "stove, hearth, cooker", so the mistranslation would explain itself.

    [(myl) I should have thought of this — it's almost surely the right explanation.]

  2. Erik said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 8:37 am

    As I understand it, gyro meat is typically ground up, reformed, and then sliced, so that part's probably fine. No clue about "ingenious", however.

  3. Tako Schotanus said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 8:38 am

    My first reaction is thinking of the dutch "haard", meaning "fire", "fireplace" according to Google Translate but which can also mean something like "source of fire" (like when firemen talk about "brandhaard").

    Maybe there is a Dutch relation here? Many Turkish have goen to the Netherlnads looking for work. Maybe he had a restaurant there first? Maybe a cousin who lived there translated it? Or maybe just my imagination running wild :)

  4. Tako Schotanus said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 8:42 am

    @Erik: I don't think so. If you look at the spit you can see the layers of meat as they put one slice on top of the other.

  5. Bill Walderman said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 8:53 am

    I don't know Turkish, and this is the sort of uninformed comment that typically doesn't find favor with the management, but could "ingenious" possibly be a mistake for "igneous," made by a Turkish speaker who looked in a Turkish-English dictionary for the English equivalent of a Turkish word meaning "fiery"? I don't have an explanation for "herd," though.

    [(myl) Advertisements for "Doner machines" sometimes mention "lava rocks" as part of the grilling system. I suspect that's where "igneous" → "ingenious" comes from.]

  6. Tako Schotanus said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 8:54 am

    More completely baseless speculation: maybe they wanted to say "hearth" but have difficulty distinguishing Ts, Ds and THs. Many Dutch for example would pronounce herd and hearth almost the same as hurt. In Spain in places the D at the end of a word is pronounced the same as TH. So in any of those cases a hobbyist translater could easily mistake the one for the other.

    Ok, I think I'll shut up now. :)

  7. Adrian said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 8:55 am

    Herd is the German word for cooker.

  8. Okko said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 8:57 am

    Dito on "ground".

    Maybe the owners are of German-Turkish origin, the translation coming from German. "Herd" could then refer to "hearth" as in stove/grill (German Herd). "Ingenious" meanwhile could come from the colloquial use of German "genial", as in "great", "awesome". "Ingenious herd" could then conceivably be "awesome grill" or something along those lines.

    NB. There's an urban myth that Döner as street food was actually first popularized by Berlin's Turkish community (some say invented). While this is wrong, fast-food Döner showed up in Berlin around the same time as it did in Turkey.

  9. GeorgeW said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 9:18 am

    Whatever the source, it gives an air (err?) of just-off-the-boat authenticity.

    (Note to management: Great marketing, don't change a thing!)

  10. Damon said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 9:20 am

    I second Adrian. Der Herd is German for "stove" or "burner."

  11. Aaron Toivo said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 9:20 am

    Both grinding the meat before forming it into a mass on a spit and stacking thin slices on the spit are common techniques for this type of food in that region. I cannot confirm that the grinding method is common specifically with doner kebab as served in Turkey, but any given restaurant in America may well use it anyway.

  12. Ian Preston said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 9:21 am

    The wording "grilled in front of an ingenious tier of charcoal fires" seems to be used by many Turkish restaurants in the New York area.

  13. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 9:22 am

    On the subject of döner kebab, maybe there's a posting to eked from the fact that in Britain this name has been shortened to "kebab" whereas in the USA that was already in use for "shish kebab". It took me ages to work out that when Brits say "kebab" (which they do often in these days of obsession over unhealthy diets), they are actually referring to what I would call "gyros" (or "Döner" when speaking German).

    [On the subject of the post, interference from German Herd was the first thing that occurred to me as well, L2 pronunciation of hearth the second. But they're not mutually exclusive–I can't imagine an L2 speaker reaching for the word "hearth" without prior acquaintance with Herd bzw. haard.]]

  14. Linda said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 9:31 am

    @Daniel von Brighoff

    But say gyros in the UK and we assume unemployment benefit payments.

  15. Sol said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 9:33 am

    I don't know any Turkish, but that's still enough to know that it probably would have been delicious.

  16. Vasha said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 9:46 am

    Poking around in a German-English dictionary, I found that one translation of "ingenious" was "patent". Now, Patentherd got three web hits, including the following from Erwin Reim's book Die Stillschweigs: von Ostrowo über Berlin und Peine nach Heide in Holstein bis zum Ende in Riga, Theresianstadt und Auschwitz : eine jüdische Familiensaga 1862-1944

    Ein paar Stücke Holz und eine Handvoll Späne sind rasch aus dem Stall geholt, bald brennt im 'Patentherd', einem der neumodischen Eisenherde, ein ordentliches Feuer…

    and this from a cooking forum:

    Wo kriegt man in einem litauischen Haushalt (vor 50 Jahren oder so) eine gleichmäßige Temperatur von 30° her. Schwankend zwischen 20 und 35 ja, das schafft jeder Tisch- oder Patentherd.

    So, definitely a type of wood-burning cooker that was used in Eastern Europe in the early part of this century, but not recently. A possible but unlikely source of "ingenious". If it was just "a patented stove", that would be "ein patentierter Herd", no reason to translate it that way.

    Secondly, why, if looking Herd up in the dictionary, give English "herd" instead of "stove, range, hearth, etc."? Perhaps they looked at the neighboring entry for Herde ("herd")? I dunno, it's all farfetched…

  17. John Logan said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 10:04 am

    This popular late-night delicacy is known as a donair in Atlantic Canada; they are found primarily in restaurants run by Lebanese-Canadians. For better or worse, I consumed many as a student back in the 1970s! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donair

  18. Dan T. said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 10:09 am

    I know of gyros as a Greek food; are they Turkish as well? Which country had them first?

    The word "gyros" is properly pronounced "year-os"; I assume in Greek it's spelled with a gamma, and that in modern Greek that "softened" to "y" at the same period that Romance languages were softening "g" to a "j" sound? The word is related to the root of "gyroscope", which in English is pronounced with the "j"-style soft "g", but probably the ancient Greek root used a hard "g".

  19. Paul Clapham said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 10:39 am

    I can't say anything about Turkish, but as for English, that's the first time I have ever seen or heard the word "unpreferably". Not that I'm complaining or anything, it's a perfectly cromulent word and I just wish I had invented it.

  20. Iltibas said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 10:41 am

    Döner (with umlaut over the o) means it turns, it rotates, it revolves, it returns (go back, come back) and such; it is also an adjective having the meaning turning, revolving.

    Gyro (γύρος in Greek) means rotation, periphery, perimeter and such. It is found in words sux=ch as gyrate and gyroscope.

    Clearly the Greek and Turkish terms carry the same meaning.

    The word kebab appears to be Arabic with the general meaning of roasted; usually, but not exclusively, meat.

    Kıyma (Turkish) used to mean finely chopped meat (using a knife); today it also means ground meat.

    I would guess that the ingenious Herd is "igneous hearth"; those who translate word for word and from a dictionary are not as a rule aware of the context in which words are used.

  21. Andrew said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 10:44 am

    In the UK Kebabs are something eaten on the way home after a night out and one over the eight, or more.

    Here in France they are considered more of a speciality with sit-down restaurants and people coming to the city specially for the Kebabs or Kebaps.

  22. J. W. Brewer said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 11:51 am

    Pace Dan T., in my experience vendors of gyros in the U.S. (regardless of ethnicity and/or native language) will recognize and respond to the extremely common AmE pronunciation that's equivalent to the first two syllables of "gyroscope," generally without trying to correct the paying customer. Prescriptivism is bad for business. But can anyone either substantiate or discredit my admittedly-extremely-speculative theory that the modern Greek pronunciation of "gyro" as "yee-roh" had some causal role in the development of "hero" as one of the variant names for the meat-etc.-in-bread item otherwise known as a sub/hoagie/grinder/wedge/po'boy/etc?

  23. Colin Reid said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 12:10 pm

    Continuing the German theme, you get both 'Gyros' and 'Döner' on sale in Germany. Some places actually offer both, so it's not just down to the ethnicity of the owner. Typically, the big difference is that the meat in 'Gyros' still has recognisable fat layers, while the meat in 'Döner' is minced and reconstituted, and so has a homogeneous texture. It may well be that this Turkish restaurant in the US does the latter, like most Turkish kebab shops in Germany.

    @Dan T: Modern Greek gamma in 'gyros' is a voiced palatal fricative apparently, which is not a very common sound. Consonantal 'y' is the closest you'll get in English, I think.

  24. John Burgess said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 12:16 pm

    @Erik: You would be correct for the US, for the most part. Two companies are responsible for 95+% of the meat sold for gyros or döner kebab and they both grind meat for their products. Neither of those companies, alas, uses 100% lamb, but offer a choice of beef, beef/lamb, or chicken.

    The exceptions are largely Turkish or Greek restaurants that take pride in their food and hand-make their columns of meat. Contra the Wikipedia article, while fat forms the topmost layers of the creation, it is also interlayered with the meat.

    As to which game first? Well, welcome to the ethnic food wars! There are Greeks who claim that Turkish cuisine is a complete rip-off of the Byzantine kitchen; there are Turks who claim they brought it all from Central Asia. As cooking is nearly as flexible as language in its ability to mutate, adapt, borrow, and reform, there's no definitive answer on the whole, though there might be for a specific dish. For gyro/döner, there is no clear answer.

  25. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 12:21 pm

    The Turks demonstrably had them first. Gyros is a calque on Turkish döner. Obviously it's due to the relative size of the immigrant communities in the USA that Greeks are primarily responsible for introducing the food to Americans.

    Another variant is shawerma (also a Turkish word!), which in my experience is (a) either chicken or lamb and (b) consists of stacked sliced meat rather than reconstituted. The meat in tacos al pastor is also stacked, but chiefly or solely pork. (Supposedly, the chilangos who brought it to the US learned this style of cooking from Lebanese Christian immigrants–who are commonly called "turcos" in Spanish American.)

    Gyros can't have anything to do with hero sandwiches. They don't show up on our shores until c1970, at which point "hero sandwich" has already been attested for fifteen years.

  26. MattF said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 1:03 pm

    Note 'Gyro' and then 'Chicken Gyro' towards the bottom of this menu:


    'Ingenious' must mean something here, but what?

  27. hector said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

    Re: döner/gyros

    I had a friend who lived in Florence in the 70s who would tweak Greeks and Turks he met by saying, "I don't know why you people can't get along. You eat the same food, you listen to the same music …"

    This would inevitably infuriate them.

  28. GeorgeW said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 1:28 pm

    Iltibas: "The word kebab appears to be Arabic with the general meaning of roasted; usually, but not exclusively, meat."

    Arabic kabaab may also have a rotation connotation. It is derived from the verb 'kabba' which has meanings of overturn, invert, capsize, and the like. (And, I think kabaab is always meat). It may also be a calque.

    The shawurma, mentioned above by Daniel, is more like the Greek gyro and Turkish doner, but not minced and reconstituted.

  29. GeorgeW said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 1:38 pm

    P.S. to my above:
    Arabic kabaabs that I have had are cooked on a grill where shawurmas are cooked on a rotisserie much like the picture in the post. shwaurmas are normally served as a sandwich on pita bread. (Damn, my mouth is watering reading about all of this).

  30. Marc L said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 1:59 pm

    English "hearth" descends from OE heorth," which is cognate with German Herd. It might have been simpler for the menu writer to ask a native speaker to proofread the copy, but in a wry way, the message still does seem to come through.

  31. Athanassios Protopapas said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 2:43 pm

    γύρος is pronounced /ˈʝiɾos/ in standard modern Greek. The final /s/ marks the nominative case, and is absent in the accusative (i.e., as object it would be γύρο /ˈʝiɾo/).

  32. Hermann Burchard said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 3:03 pm

    Just to second, or third, the interpretation "igneous hearth" with German Herd as bridge.

  33. Hermann Burchard said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 3:09 pm

    What amazes me is the venue of Times Square, NY, NY. When traveling in Worms, Rhine, I saw similar translation blunders in an English language tourist guide, but Worms is a sleepy town nowadays, no longer the capital city of Imperial Diets.

  34. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 3:18 pm

    "Kabaab" can't be a calque because it's in use long before either of the other terms and for a wide variety of preparations. There are even variants like testi kebabı that are stewed rather than grilled or baked in a tandoor (as several South Asia varieties are). I think it's probably related to the faʻʻala form of the root which has the meaning "form into a ball", though apparently some etymologists have suggested derivations from Aramaic or even Akkadian.

  35. Jenny said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 3:39 pm

    I also thought "igneous" or perhaps "ignited." I mainly hear the former in descriptions of volcanic rock, but a bag of charcoal has instructions about what to do once it is ignited. As for "herd," perhaps this was an attempt to find a good collective term? I would probably call it a bed of charcoal, but "bed" isn't a very intuitive word for it (and possibly there is a better one).

  36. Bill Walderman said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 4:58 pm

    'Advertisements for "Doner machines" sometimes mention "lava rocks" as part of the grilling system.'

    Apparently, using lava rocks on gas grills is a standard practice, not just for döner grills.



    So the "ingenious herd" is probably just a gas grill or cooker that uses lava rocks.

  37. Alec said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 5:02 pm

    In a favourite take-out curry place in Northern Ireland I saw a combination snack box listed on the menu as including "donor meat". I was afraid to ask who or what had donated it.

  38. Dan T. said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 5:37 pm

    A Diet of Worms would be much less appetizing than any sort of gyros.

  39. Sandra said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 5:48 pm

    Since I live in NYC, I'm tempted to go to the restaurant and check it out.

  40. TS said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 5:55 pm

    @Tako (and others):

    Gyros in Germany is usually based on slices of meat stacked as shown in the figure, while most gyros I have seen in the US is based on ground meat. I think the German way is probably closer to the original — and tastier.

    As for "herd", my first association was also with the German word for stove. Not sure if that is the reason, but I have met a fair number of people from Turkey and other places who moved from Germany to the US. My local chicken joint here in Brooklyn is run by an "Afghan Bavarian American" who speaks German with a Munich accent after spending more than a decade there, but is originally from Afghanistan (most chicken restaurants in NYC are run by Afghans; see http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/14/nyregion/14chicken.html).

  41. Bill Walderman said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 6:33 pm

    Could someone have found "igneous" in a Turkish-English dictionary as a translation for a Turkish adjective meaning approximately "lava," misspelled "igneous" when preparing the menu on a word processor, and then selected the wrong correction on a spell-check program?

  42. Charles said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 6:56 pm

    My wife, who is Turkish, helped me with this. "ingenious" can refer to several possibilities, such as "ustaca" or "dâhice," both of which refer to someone who has expert (i.e., ingenious) control of something. "herd" refers "sürüyü gütmek," controlling a group of animals, which is being used to represent the fire. In other words, there's a master chef here who has expert control over the fire in order to have great tasting döner.

  43. Charles said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 7:05 pm

    One extra note. My wife informs me that these döner chefs pride themselves over their "expert" control of the fire because too close to the fire dries the meat out while too far away doesn't cook it well enough.

  44. marie-lucie said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 9:55 pm

    Living in Halifax (Nova Scotia), I can confirm John Logan's post about the continuing popularity of donairs in Atlantic Canada, especially among students. The meat is both ground and sliced: the block looks like it is solid (as in the picture) but the meat has been ground before being tightly packed into the right shape. It does not fall apart, and slices are cut off the outside in order to be placed into the pita with the other ingredients. Donairs and similar foods are available from the many Greek and Lebanese fast food outlets and from the less numerous Turkish ones.

    (Some time ago Bill Poser posted a picture of the oldest donair shop in Halifax, which still exists after several decades and now has several branches).

  45. Setsuka said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 10:15 pm

    On "ingenious herd of charcoal":

    "Ingenious" could be a typo for "indigenous", and "herd" could be meant as "group", as in a "group of charcoal".

    Therefore, it could be interpreted as "a locally gathered group of charcoal", referring to (perhaps) fresh charcoal used to cook the doner. I have often noticed menus describing their options in such a manner that implies "authenticity" and "high quality". Perhaps this is an (unfortunately failed) attempt at selling customers the idea that their donor is authentically made?

  46. Hermann Burchard said,

    April 5, 2011 @ 10:23 pm

    @Dan T.: Amazingly the name of the city of Worms has a known history going back to the Celts (which occupied Germania long before the Dutch went South). See Wikipedia for the etymology:

    Celtic Borbetomagus > Latin Vormatia > Medieval Hebrew Vermayza (ורמיזא), Dutch* Worms (cannot be read as Wurm, pl. Würmer).

    – – –
    *) Dutch = English version of Latin Theodisce, German Deutsch

  47. David Donnell said,

    April 6, 2011 @ 12:23 am

    Culinary/non-language note to NY'ers: After going to this place for lunch during work yesterday to get a falafel–which was ingenious!–out of curiosity, I returned today and had their chicken gyro (also "grilled in front of an ingenious herd of charcoal fire"). The falafel was far superior, and cheaper.

    To me, little places like this are just 'falafel joints', despite their other offerings; I'm too spoiled on good Iranian and Greek food here in NYC to enjoy the kebabs & gyros, respectively, that these little Arab/Turkish places purvey.

  48. Athanassios Protopapas said,

    April 6, 2011 @ 12:38 am

    In Greece, gyros is always made by stacked slices of meat. Traditionally this is pork meat (not exactly lean), but in recent years chicken is becoming more common as an additional option (never as the only option). As this is the most common "fast food" in Greece, there are gyros places every few blocks in every city and town. In the US I've only seen ground meat versions, and they aren't even close to the Greek original in appearance, texture, or taste. I've never seen ground meat gyro in Greece. I have no idea if it's common in Turkey.

  49. language hat said,

    April 6, 2011 @ 8:09 am

    I know of gyros as a Greek food; are they Turkish as well? Which country had them first?

    Definitely the Turks, as Daniel von Brighoff said. Much of what we think of as Greek cuisine is simply a simplified provincial variant of Ottoman cuisine, which makes sense, since Greece was a province (actually several provinces) of the Ottoman Empire for centuries (no offense to Greeks — I love the country, culture, and language, but facts are facts). Anyone interested in this stuff should read an amazing book called Culinary Cultures of the Middle East, edited by Richard Tapper and Sami Zubaida.

    The word "gyros" is properly pronounced "year-os"

    If buy "properly" you mean "in Greek." In the US, it varies by region; in NYC it's universally pronounced like the start of gyroscope. I once had the satisfaction of having my brother, visiting from California where they say YEE-ro, order one with that pronunciation only to hear the counterman pass the order on to the cook using the anglicized NYC pronunciation (both, needless to say, were Greeks).

  50. Mark Dunan said,

    April 6, 2011 @ 8:51 am

    I used to eat gyros on occasion at the famous Rutgers "grease trucks" which had all kinds of great Mediterranean food. We used to say "YEE-ro"; the over-Anglicized version was considered a mark of ignorance. Not sure about now, though.

    Getting off topic a little, but I was also tricked into eating eggplant there purely because it was contained in the delightfully-named "baba ganush". Not until I ordered and ate it did I find out what it really was!

  51. grackle said,

    April 6, 2011 @ 10:12 am

    I have always thought the disappointing ground-massed versions of gyros that seem to be ubiquitous in the U.S. were a typicall American industrial bastardization of the Middle Eastern originals that I had known in Greece, Turkey and Israel, where they were respectively (and usually) gyros of pork, stacked and sliced interleaved with fat; döner made with lamb, likewise stacked and sliced interleaved with fat; and shwarma of chcken and turkey, sliced stacked etc.

  52. grackle said,

    April 6, 2011 @ 10:13 am

    I have always thought the disappointing ground-massed versions of gyros that seem to be ubiquitous in the U.S. were a typical American industrial bastardization of the Middle Eastern originals that I had known in Greece, Turkey and Israel, where they were respectively (and usually) gyros of pork, stacked and sliced interleaved with fat; döner made with lamb, likewise stacked and sliced interleaved with fat; and shwarma of chicken and turkey, sliced stacked etc.

  53. Keith said,

    April 6, 2011 @ 1:41 pm

    I agree with the idea that "herd" here should be "hearth", for the source of the grilling heat.

    Furthermore, I think that "ingenious" refers to the well-designed machine that keeps the charcoal hearth in a vertical position.


  54. Bill Walderman said,

    April 6, 2011 @ 1:58 pm

    @ Keith

    Maybe you're right that "ingenious" isn't a mistake and refers to the cooking mechanism.


  55. language hat said,

    April 6, 2011 @ 2:40 pm

    Yeah, I'm surprised that so many people think "ingenious" is a mistake (and for "igneous"!); it seems perfectly normal menu-speak to me.

  56. Charles said,

    April 6, 2011 @ 3:07 pm

    Fascinating. I gave a Turkish explanation above, and yet commenters without a Turkish background seem to have overlooked it in their explanations.

  57. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    April 6, 2011 @ 3:17 pm

    TS, what you said about your "Afghan Bavarian American" reminds me of an amusing exchange from the film Gegen die Wand, written and directed by the Hamburg-born Fatih Akın. The main character, a Germany Turk, visits Turkey for either the first time or the first time since he was a child. The driver of the taxi he takes from the airport asks him where he is from and is delighted to hear him say, "Hamburg." He tells him he's from Munich himself, at which point our protagonist says, "Ach, nein, ein Baier!"

  58. John Gerlach said,

    April 6, 2011 @ 7:31 pm

    Ha! That's great! One of the best mis-translations from Chinese to English I saw was on a sign above the door leading to the control room of a ferry from Hong Kong to Macau. It read "Not Missionary, Not Come In". I puzzled over that with a smile for a few moments, then suddenly realized that the sign writer had been using one of the archaic and anachronistic Chinese to English dictionaries still published in China today. A missionary was a "sent one" and "an authorized one", hence the sign intended to say: "No Unauthorized Entry" – priceless!

  59. Jonathan D said,

    April 6, 2011 @ 8:23 pm

    So is the use of "gyro" so common in the US that it is regularly used in Turkish menus? Here in Sydney, Australia, the Greek shops sell "Yeeros" (spelling apparently different in Melbourne) and the Turkish-themed sell doner kebabs, with no reference to the fact that they're similar.

  60. David Donnell said,

    April 7, 2011 @ 1:06 am

    Reality check on the "ingenious herd of charcoal fire": I walked by this Istanbul joint again today, looking in their window to check out their gyro meat cookers. There were two 'vertical spits' of meat: one "ground meat", one chicken, roughly half the size of the illustration above. They were cooking in front of an electric cooking contraption: two groups of 4 horizontal bars behind the two spits of meat were glowing red like an old-fashioned space heater.

  61. V said,

    April 7, 2011 @ 6:01 am

    "Kabaab" can't be a calque because it's in use long before either of the other terms and for a wide variety of preparations. There are even variants like testi kebabı that are stewed rather than grilled or baked in a tandoor (as several South Asia varieties are). I think it's probably related to the faʻʻala form of the root which has the meaning "form into a ball", though apparently some etymologists have suggested derivations from Aramaic or even Akkadian."

    That's interesting — in Bulgarian, the word kebab refers to stews with meatballs exclusively. The diminutive of it is used for a specific style of grilled minced meat, one of the two main ones. The word for the other one is derived from kofta. Shish refers exclusively to chopped meat and/or vegetables on a skewer, shish means skewer. The meal itself is called with the diminutive of shish.

  62. V said,

    April 7, 2011 @ 6:41 am

    Actually, кебап can refer to a stew with chopped up meat too, I was just thinking of meatballs when I wrote this… But yeah, only stews.
    кьофте. Unlike the кебапче, it can: also be fried; include onions and parsley in the mixture, also sometimes eggs when fried, sometimes chili pepper flakes when grilled; and doesn't have cumin in it.

    "ustaca" or "dâhice,"

    Interesting, I recognise ustaca as cognate to the very archaic уста in that sense, it means mouth otherwise, I thought it's probably not related. Wikitionary says it's from Persian, like kofta. Дяхидже returns nothing on Google though.

  63. richard said,

    April 8, 2011 @ 2:07 am

    @Ian Preston noted: The wording "grilled in front of an ingenious tier of charcoal fires" seems to be used by many Turkish restaurants in the New York area.

    And "Tier" is a German word referring to animals. I agree with the other commenters, too, who see "ingenious" as conventional menuspeak.

  64. John Cowan said,

    April 8, 2011 @ 11:06 am

    Dan T.: The classical formulation of that joke is "Martin Luther was condemned to death by a diet of worms."

    I remember reading a joke in the Readers Digest column "Humor in Uniform" back in the Sixties about a military family being relocated back to the States after a tour of duty in Germany. The GIs tasked with unloading the family's furniture from the packing crates absolutely refused to do so. Why not? Because the crates were clearly marked WORMS and HANDLE WITH CARE.

  65. maidhc said,

    April 10, 2011 @ 4:13 am

    I live in California, which is a long way away from the origin of such food, but here is what I see.

    "Doner" is not used at all. "Kebab" strictly means things that are cooked on a skewer. If they are marinated first they can be very tasty, otherwise they are rather bland.

    Greek places use "gyros". We also have "Mediterranean" places that use the same names for things as the Greeks, but the owners seem to be Turks or Arabs. Then we have places that are explicitly Arab and they call it "shawarma".

    The base option for shawarma is chicken. It also seems to refer to the sauce, which is not the same as you get on gyros.

    We don't have a huge number of such places, but I really appreciate the ones that are here.

  66. Anthony said,

    April 11, 2011 @ 12:36 am

    Re: pronunciation of "gyros": someone, probably one of the main suppliers of gyros to cheap "Mediterranean" restaurants, once had a poster which had a picture of a particularly appetizing-looking gyros, labeled "Gyro (say "yee-ro").

  67. Bill Poser said,

    April 14, 2011 @ 7:47 pm

    On the various names for gyros/doner let me point out my post on this topic.

  68. Shawarma recipe guy said,

    April 19, 2011 @ 10:30 am

    Shawarma tends to follow Halal/Kashrut rules – where meat and dairy are not served together – so where a donner or gyro would have a yogurt based sauce, shawarma has a tahini based sauce. That's pretty much the major difference…

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