When Worlds Collide: Turkish Kebab in Germany

Turkish Doner Kabab with Cabbage
Turkish Doner Kabab with Cabbage

For three years, we lived about as far east as you can go on the Turkish Mediterranean.  Beautiful, soulful place.  We grew to love the people, the culture, the carpets, the history,  and the food.  (Oh, that food. . .)  We were aware that Germany has the largest Turkish population outside of the country of Turkey, so we’ve never been surprised as travellers (and now residents) in Germany to find lots of carpet shops and kebab stands.

So why were we surprised to find that many kebab restaurants here have married Turkish kebabs with German tastes?  And who knew that kebab and tzatziki sauce could be so fabulous with red cabbage!!!   We first had this in Trier, but have repeated the discovery numerous times in towns all over the German map.  And why shouldn’t the idea spread–it is so very, very good!   Especially if the cabbage has been marinated (in what, I don’t know–just pure, unadulterated deliciousness!).

On the SeriousEats website, Steen Bjorn Hanssen offers the following insights into the popularity of Turkish food in Germany:

Döner Kebab, or just döner, is undoubtedly the most popular street food in Germany and has become part of the German culinary culture and vocabulary, much like Indian chicken tikka masala has in the UK. The döner was first introduced to the Berliner neighborhoods of Kreuzberg (known as Little Istanbul) and Neukölln in the early 1970s by Turkish immigrants invited to contribute to west Germany’s Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle). It quickly spread to other (west) German urban centers and following German reunification became so popular, you’ll find a döner stand in every single German town today, even in Bavaria.

(You can read his full article at http://www.seriouseats.com/2011/02/germany-doner-kebab-street-food-meat.html)

I love the comparison of Turkish food in Germany to Indian food in England–and it rings true to my ears.  Not only was Indian food outrageously popular in England, but the quality of Indian food we ate there was unmatchable.  And, if popular myth is true, Chicken Tikka Masala (England’s most popular Indian dish) is not so much Indian as an Indian hybrid–created by chefs in the UK.  Much like our German Berliner/Turkish Kebab.

Everybody likes to put their own spin on a story–even when that story is a culinary dish.  And I’m all for it!   Let the worlds collide–and our tummies and tongues will be the happier for it.


Candlemas and Groundhog Day–a belated primer

You and I tend to know February 2nd as Groundhog Day, candlemas riponbut it’s been a festival day for a long time, and its roots go back deep into the calendar of the Christian church, and far deeper still.  The day marks the midpoint between  the winter solstice and the spring equinox, so it’s considered the beginning of spring, or at least (if you live where it is still remarkably cold, like I do) the tipping point where winter and dark begin making way for warmth and light.

Candlemas is rarely observed in the church these days, but our old hometown of Ripon, England still honors the day.  The cathedral hosts a Candlemas service in the evening, and the cathedral is lit by thousands of candles.  To clarify–it is lit by thousands of candles only.  It is brillliant.  The first time I walked into one of these services, my children in their winter pajamas (they were young, and it was late and cold out), we all gasped and immediately whispered “Harry Potter!”   This is the best way I know to describe the look of the cathedral to a Candlemas novice or a wizard fan–think of Hogwarts’ great hall and its floating candles.  In Ripon Cathedral, the thousands of candles are set around the edges of the ground, in the clerestory ledges, and in every shelf and cubby along those ancient stone walls.  They appear to float and rise.  It’s heady stuff, and it’s one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.

candlemas 2The Ripon Cathedral website posted the following blurb about Candlemas last year:

Candlemas is one of the most ancient feasts of the Church, and occurs 40 days after Christmas, on the 2nd February. It is also known as the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, in reference to the episode in Luke’s gospel (2:22-40).
This ancient festival has been celebrated at Ripon for centuries. A visitor to the Cathedral in 1790 declared that the whole building was “one continued blaze of light all afternoon”.
This year, the Cathedral will once again shine with the light of thousands of candles, symbolising Jesus as the light of the world.

It’s good to know that, dark and cold as it still is (whether we are speaking of the weather and season, or of world events), we can look to a tipping point and the hope of spring.   (Even if Punxsutawney Phil is right and the next few weeks will be chill, spring must come some day.)  It is also good to know that, in a world of cultural globalization, where McDonalds is edging its way into every corner, you can still stumble on those few enclaves where something ancient, unusual, and beautiful will make you catch your breath. . . even if you find yourself whispering “Harry Potter” in the aftermath.