In my review of Taco Fundacion, I explained that some pundits believe the taco is poised to become the most ubiquitous and popular dish in the fruited plain, supplanting the fruited plain’s sacrosanct burger. While conquering the culinary affections of a country would be a huge accomplishment, one particular type of sandwich (loosely defined) has conquered an entire continent. Europe is absolutely crazy for kebabs! From the Iberian Peninsula to the Caucasus region, the döner kebab has become the world’s most popular spit-grilled meat.
We witnessed some of its popularity first-hand when we lived in England where döner kebabs are considered an icon of urban food culture. They’re even served in centuries-old pubs alongside a pint (or six) of beer and the sacrosanct British chips. Döner kebabs are even more popular in Germany which is now considered the kebab capital of the world. Easily the most popular street food in Germany, döner kebabs by far exceed the popularity of the sausage, long a German source of historical and cultural pride. According to Thrillist, as of 2014, there were some 17,000 kebab slingers in Germany and more kebab stands than McDonald’s and Burger King combined.
Aside from vegans, vegetarians and calorie counters, it seems the only person in Europe who doesn’t like döner kebabs is curmudgeonly contrarian Gordon Ramsey who likens kebabs throughout the United Kingdom to “a piece of (expletive) on a stick that is taken off the burner at night frozen then reheated the next day.” Obviously he never visited the jankety little kebab house in Banbury which forever set our benchmark for excellence in Middle Eastern sandwiches. Thirty years removed from our last Banbury kebab, we still remember it with great fondness.
If you’ve never had a döner kebab or have gleaned from this essay only that it’s some sort of sandwich, let me describe it. A döner kebab is a traditional Turkish dish made from meat roasted vertically on a spit, very similarly to how Greek gyros and other spit-roasted meats from throughout the Mediterranean region are prepared. On the long cylindrical spit, the meat resembles an elephant’s foot from which small pieces of juicy meat are shaved then crammed into warm pita or epic flat bread before being topped with a sauce (curry in England and usually a dill-yogurt sauce in England) and (or) cabbage, onions and tomatoes. If that description sounds like a “shawarma” or a “gyro,” they’re all basically the same thing with minor differences not worth elaborating on.
When entrepreneurial George Alin Strimbu decided to launch a mobile food kitchen, it didn’t take him long to decide he shouldn’t serve the foods of Romania, his ancestral homeland. Denizens of the fruited plain, after all, tend to associate Romania with vampires and gypsies…if they think about Romania at all. Instead, George opted to go into business slinging kebabs, one of the most popular street foods in Romania. His mobile food kitchen is one of the largest in town with a refrigerator capacious enough to virtually ensure he doesn’t run out of food. In keeping with the name on the marquee, there’s a vertical spit in the truck spinning round and round.
George, by the way, was the first in his family born in the United States. Before moving to Albuquerque, his family lived in Cleveland and of course, before that in Romania. If you try to discern an accent–Romanian, Cleveland, Albuquerque–in George, you won’t find one in the soft-spoken, genial proprietor of the Gourmet Döner Kebab. Before launching his mobile food kitchen, he ran the hotel restaurant at the historic Hiway House Motel which his family has operated for years. He hopes to launch a second mobile food kitchen soon and has aspirations to someday operate a commissary for Duke City mobile food kitchens.
The concept at Gourmet Döner Kebab is rather simple and not as “one note” as you might think when you first peruse the “build you platter” menu. First you choose one of the gourmet entrees: döner sandwich, döner wrap, döner salad, döner box (chicken or beef served with fries) or döner tacos. Second you pick the filling with which you’ll stuff your entree: beef n lamb, chicken or veggie mix. Lastly, you top it off with the mobile food kitchen’s signature sauces (housemade garlic aioli, hot & spicy or vinaigrette), veggies (tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, cabbage, red cabbage and pickles) and cheese. For an additional charge, you can have green chile, feta cheese or a feisty feta spread.
My Kim opted for a fully-dressed döner sandwich served in a freshly toasted pita (imported all the way from Phoenix). With the addition of feta cheese and the housemade garlic aioli, the sandwich was brimming with ingredients. One of the hallmarks of every item we enjoyed at Gourmet Döner Kebab is freshness–surprisingly fresh (just look at the ripe red tomatoes) and crisp vegetables chopped and cut to a right-size. One caution–the garlic aioli will sneak up on you–maybe not while you’re enjoying your sandwich, but soon afterwards. It’s a breath-wrecking, vampire-warding garlic aioli and you’ll love it.
You’ll also love the döner tacos, three soft corn tortillas engorged with the aforementioned ingredients. It’s a New Mexico meets Asia meets Europe concept that really works. With the pronounced flavor of corn, the tortillas are a nice counterbalance to the addictive garlic aioli. We even asked for the garlic aioli on the döner salad though we also added the vinaigrette. Both the tacos and the salad are worthy of future and repeated visits to the Gourmet Döner Kebab, an American mobile food kitchen with the spirit and cuisine of Europe.
There’s no telling if (or when) the döner kebab will conquer the fruited plain, but if it does you can credit purveyors such as George Alin Strimbu and his rolling restaurant for leading the charge.
Gourmet Döner Kebab
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 20 August 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Döner Sandwich, Döner Tacos, Döner Salad, French Fries