JayPo’s Penalty Boxed Lunch: The Halifax Donair

The US needs to popularize delicious meats wrapped in warm pita.

JayPo’s Penalty Boxed Lunch: The Halifax Donair

Welcome to JayPo’s Penalty Boxed Lunch, where we explore food from around the country! This week’s 15th official entry comes from our lovely neighbors in the North! Halifax, Nova Scotia is "home" to the unique take on a doner kebab...the donair.

Food History!

In one of those "According to Legends"...

A variation known as donair was introduced in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in the early 1970s.[23] There are competing claims about the origin, but according to Halifax resident Leo Gamoulakos, his father, Greek immigrant Peter Gamoulakos, started selling Greek-style gyros at Velos Pizza in the Halifax suburb of Bedford. It did not catch on with the public, so in 1972[23] he modified the customary pork and lamb recipe by using spiced ground beef, Lebanese flatbread, and inventing the distinctive sweet donair sauce made with condensed milk, vinegar, sugar, and garlic. He called it by the doner name rather than gyros, but it came to be pronounced, and spelled, as donair.[56][57][58][59] In 1973 Gamoulakos opened the first King of Donair restaurant on Quinpool Road in Halifax.[60] In 2015, Halifax named donair the city's official food.[24] Historically found only in Atlantic Canada, the dish's popularity has expanded to other parts of Canada.[56]

How I Made It!

My version started with a 90/10 ground beef mixture and seasoned with ground coriander, onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, salt, pepper and cayenne. I basically mixed this into a paste, formed it into a meatloaf-type shape and baked this in the oven for 90 minutes. After it had rested for a bit, I sliced it as thin as I could and started assembling my "sandwich". This included diced tomatoes, diced onions and...the donair sauce. The latter was confounding for me. This sauce consists of sweetened condensed milk, vinegar and garlic powder. It was bizarre and I'm all for a savory/sweet contrast, but this was too much. I stacked all this onto a whole wheat pita (all the store had at the time and sorry if it offends). The donair meat itself was dope and while the sauce was "fine", it wasn't something I'd ever use again. If you subbed the condensed milk with yogurt/sour cream I think it would have been right up my alley. I still ate two of these lol.

What Does A Local Think? (Thanks to our special guests, Micah of @IneffectiveMath fame and honorary Nova Scotian, Kelly Hinkle)

Micah: It's pretty close to accurate as donairs go, a bigger, thinner pita is a little more typical and instead of just tomatoes you usually get some kind of mixed tabouli-tomato salady mixture. The sauce is just sweetened condensed milk but it's universally called just "donair sauce" and you also get it from pizza stores to dip in when you order pizza or garlic fingers.

The "how do you make" question is partially answered above but it's vital to realize that this is not home food. You do not make a donair. You get wasted and you pay a fourth-generation Lebanese immigrant to make you a donair.

I have eaten many, many donairs, because I used to drink downtown, as you do, but I have always hated the sauce. I don't have a favourite place, I have a ranking of somewhat-shameful through to very-shameful outlets.

I prefer a culturally similar but culinarily distinct drunk-man choice, the ginormous pepperoni pizza slice with so much goddamn oil it feels like you're eating lube. It's quite common for the same outlets to sell both these and donairs. Here I have a clear fave, sicilian pizza, at a corner downtown called "pizza corner" which used to have three such "restaurants" (and a presbyterian church) all on the same corner. This place is where you go to a) eat b) fight or c) eat and watch the people fighting.

In fact one and perhaps two of the pizza/donair places has closed up but the intersection is universally known as pizza corner and probably will be for generations. Archaeologists will wonder why Blowers and Grafton is described this way.

Kelly: I recall there being one pizza place and one place that I think might have been specifically a donair place. And the church of course. Somehow in my wanderings I always ended up walking up that giant hill the ends with pizza.

Micah: that's the real reason it became the spot. somehow you just wind up there. that's what attracted the food places to set up shop there.

You could study a map of the city with the topography and you wouldn't in a thousand guesses put your finger on that corner but it is unreal how everybody just ..... gravitates there, soused.

Kelly: Clearly some kind of magic in play.

Micah: I'm still trying to process the idea of "make a donair at home, for like, a meal". Even when you eat donairs out, it's not a meal. It's because alcohol puts you in touch with your primal human need for food.

Kelly: It’s like a cheesesteak, you rarely make those at home too but they are for sure The Sandwich of the Region.