A donair is a variation of the Turkish dish, doner kebab (gyros, shawarma), and was invented in Canada in 1972 by Peter Gamaoulakos, who had emigrated to Canada just before the 1960’s and met with little to no success with selling his Greek gyros.
In an effort to adapt to local tastes, he used beef in favour of lamb and created a sweet sauce in place of tzatziki.
The donair was officially unveiled in 1973 at King of Donair on Quinpool Road in Halifax.
The beef is combined into a loaf with flour, bread crumbs and various spices. It is either cooked on a spit or baked in a loaf pan and then grilled before it is wrapped in a flatbread pita with diced tomatoes and onions.
Donair sauce is distinctively sweet, made from evaporated milk, sugar, vinegar and garlic. It’s used quite often for dipping garlic fingers or as a gravy for donair poutine.
There are many variations on the donair, including donair pizza, donair pogos and donair subs. While the donair is primarily enjoyed by Haligonians, it’s also prevalent in Alberta and Southern Ontario.
On my way home from a training course downtown, I called my husband about dinner. I knew about The Fuzz Box and was hoping to try it out as soon as possible. Specializing in real Nova Scotian Donairs, said the sign. The menu was literally replete with familiar dishes from my childhood – fried pepperoni, rabbit stew, annapolis coleslaw.
Ironically, my first donair was in Windsor, Ontario while attending university. Subsequent trips to visit my brother in Halifax proffered more opportunity to have donairs and I quickly discovered that the ones I had had in Windsor were fine, but nowhere near what could be had in Halifax.
As I was trying to convince him we should have these donairs, I tried to describe what he would be eating. When I said it was like a shawarma, Neil Dominey, the proprietor of The Fuzz Box, quickly chimed in that it was not like a shawarma. I simply couldn’t think of any other way to describe it to a nearly lifelong Ontarian who had never experienced a donair.
Frankly, it’s much messier. In case you don’t have enough donair sauce on your donair, you can buy it on the side because this is not a tightly wrapped, neatly sealed shawarma or gyro. Neil uses a softer, fluffier pita. This pita helps soak up the extra sauce, but it’s still extremely messy. This is the only way to have a donair, he says. It should be dripping. Instead of a vertical spit, Neil prefers to bake his beef in a loaf, creating a perfect crumble that soaks up the donair sauce beautifully.
I’ve since been back a few times and I do find myself thinking of ways I can get away with going there instead of cooking dinner. Even my son thought it was the best new (to him) food he’s tasted in a long while.
Highly recommended. Get there as fast as you can. (I’m aiming to try the Blueberry Grunt as soon as humanly possible).