Be Vewwy Vewwy Quiet – We’re Hunting Donairs


In a city that prides itself on being one of the most multi-cultural in the world, it’s laughable to think that it’s difficult to find authentic Canadian foodstuffs in Toronto. From balut to yak milk, grape leaves to berebere spice, somewhere in the small ethnically-oriented neighbourhoods of our city, foreign food items can be found. Yet when it comes to classic Canadian dishes, it’s easier to book a flight to Halifax than it is to find an authentic version of an east coast favourite like the donair.

Those who are unfamiliar with the experience of stumbling drunkenly to the infamous “pizza corner” in the wee hours of a Halifax night to gorge on that city’s most beloved street food might not understand that a donair is not the same as a gyro. Same premise, yes, but many differences.

The meat is different (beef for donairs versus lamb for gyros); the donair sauce, made with evaporated milk, sugar, garlic powder and vinegar bears only visual resemblance to the traditional tzatziki-based gyro sauce, and I’ve seen people come to fisticuffs over the addition of toppings beyond the de rigeur diced raw onions and tomatoes.


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Queen of Donairs

A couple of weeks ago, someone posted to the Toronto LiveJournal community, asking about where to get Nova Scotia style donairs. After we collectively determined that there is no place in Toronto to get this much-loved street food, I fessed up and admitted that I have a copy of the original recipe created and marketed by the chain King of Donairs. And despite encouragement to start my own donair stand here in Toronto, I’d still rather just make the things at home.

Now while the donair resembles the traditional Greek gyro in many ways, it’s not a gyro. Not even close. The meat is different, and more importantly, the sauce is different. How Halifax became the place where the gyro or doner kebab was bastardized and grew in popularity, I’ll never know, but donair joints are on every block in downtown Halifax. Most of the shops that sell donairs also sell pizza, most famously on the corner of Blowers and Grafton Streets, aka “Pizza Corner”, where three of the four corners (the fourth is a church) have some variation of a pizza/donair joint. There’s even a donair pizza for those who can’t decide.

It should be pointed out that Halifax has three different institutes of higher learning in its rather miniscule downtown area, which means a lot of students (note to anyone considering a trip to Nova Scotia, do NOT go to Halifax during the first few weeks of September), which means a lot of bars. At one point in the 80s, Halifax had more bars per capita than any other city in North America. What this means is that there are a lot of drunk people looking for something to eat after last call.

And nothing is more satisfying than a donair.


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