One of Britain’s most celebrated fastfood dishes is also a gory yet glorious minced mess
Mum‘s always repulsed when I bring the stuff into the family home. ‘Is my cooking so horrific that you’re forced to buy this filth, beta?’ To annoy her I used to hold up strips in the air and run around the kitchen like a lunatic back when I was, err, 19. I’m talking, of course, about one of Britain’s most popular takeaway foods, one which has a special place in many of our hearts: the infamous doner kebab. 700 million are consumed every year and now it’s even a Pot Noodle flavour.
You do wonder where the meat comes from and how it’s made; it’s remained a mystery to many for quite a while. The constantly reheated greyness that is a doner kebab may as well be meat salvaged from deformed animals living in the aftermath of some botched nuclear test; eyeballs, parts you never knew existed; stuff so manky it only looks good pounded into a fine slush you could oil a car engine with, after which it’s frozen in liquid nitrogen and then lorried off to kebab shops UK-wide, ready to be sliced up for staggering, pissed-out-of-their-brains clubbers who’ve temporarily lost control of their mental faculties and, erm, idiots like me.
I’ve asked local takeaways on numerous occasions, where workers always seem clueless (with takeaways designated as ‘restaurants’, their owners are under no obligation to talk about ingredients), and of the several companies I contacted in writing this piece, only one got back to me.
The Guardian’s Bibi van der Zee tried to solve the mystery in 2006; the bit about 4-year old meat being found on a manufacturer’s site is going to stay with me for a while. Later that year, Giles Coren of the ‘F Word’ also investigated; the manager of one of the UK’s largest doner factories proudly told him the meat consists of lamb off-cuts such as shoulder and breast that supermarkets can’t use; the hard to reach stuff in between the ribs and overly fatty parts such as the belly. Other general ingredients include rusk, salt, onion powder, phosphate, coriander and ground pepper.
Tom Sanders, Professor of Nutrition at King’s College London, feels the takeaway meal in question is ‘the worst thing you can probably eat’. Research he conducted found them to contain ridiculously high levels of trans fats, which are directly linked to increased risk of coronary heart disease (I’m guessing that’d be the white goo that usually forms around the kebabs if you leave them uneaten for too long). Although we are advised not to consume anything over 2g of the stuff per day, upwards of 5g per portion can be found in a doner kebab, compared to 0.87g in a Big Mac and fries.
According to the Food Standards Agency, doner meat should always be made of lamb, unless stated otherwise. In practice however, things aren’t this cushy. A UK wide study in 2009 sampled 494 kebabs and produced cringe-worthy results: 35% contained meats other than those listed, including beef and chicken (used by unscrupulous producers to make their product cheaper). Of extra concern to Muslims in particular, pork was found in six, two of which were labeled halal. Unlike healthier variants of the food in such places as Turkey, the average UK based doner was found to contain 1000 calories, 98% of the daily salt recommendation, and 148% of daily saturated fat; for the worst offenders you can double the lot.
It’s funny I still eat the stuff from time to time, because in any other circumstance if I saw a bit of strange looking meat, I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole. At Nando’s I spend half an hour inspecting my chicken and removing the extra red bits. I guess that’s the beauty of the doner kebab; all you see are friendly looking brown strips of loveliness. When eating one of the ghastly things, many of us momentarily adopt the mentality of that bad guy from the Matrix; you know, the one who understands it’s all a lie, that the steak he’s eating isn’t really a steak, but prefers to keep his senses fooled.
Although I realise they’re likely the product of a nifty marketing ploy to shift bad meat, there’s no denying doners can be quite nice. A dollop of mayo, a spatter of chili sauce, a soft white naan, and I’m in heaven. Normally when finished I stand back in horror at what I’ve just done, vowing never to do it to myself again, only to repeat it in a month’s time in some seemingly never-ending cycle that’ll probably have me attaining levels of obesity unheard of in years to come.
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