Every city has that one tasty treat. The legendary food item locals cultivate and rave about making it synonymous with their geographical location. Chicago has the ever craved Chicago Dog or epic Deep Dish Pizza, PEI has the infamous Lobster Roll, New York and its Deli scene are a tourist attraction, Montreal makes headline news for its Smoked Meat, and so on. These are but a few examples of food based “must haves” as you globe trot around the world.
In the East Coast, Halifax specifically, the Donair has super hero status. The Donair is basically Nova Scotian Meatloaf. Created in a unique way that satisfies the sweet and salty cravings all in one go. Why Halifax and why the Donair?
The Donair origin
I don’t know the exact story but rumour has it a man by the name of Peter Gamoulakos invented this dish in the 1970’s. He had opened a Greek restaurant off of the Bedford Highway and was attempting to introduce the Maritime palate to the famous Greek Gyros. Our local meat and potato taste buds were not accepting the Mediterranean flare so he removed the lamb inserted beef, added a sweet sauce instead of the tart tzatziki and the Donair was born. True or not, what was the Donair’s tipping point?
The Tipping Point
My take on this is the fact the Halifax is a University town. It is known for not just prestigious campuses and educational opportunities, but also known for its pubs. Yup. Shocking I know, and yet Halifax is famous for its bar and pub scene. Students, Pubs, and the need for street food is the Halifax reality. As a result, late night cravings and the need for food absorption come into play as many a consumer rolls out of their chosen venue in search of substance. Voila the Donair had an audience.
You see the Donair is a night owl. Yes you can have it for lunch or as a mid day snack but when are you going to crave it the most? At 2 am when you are leaving your favourite haunt and you need to have starch fuelled, salty cured, and sweetly finished, grab and go, food choice. Honestly that first bite right down to the last one is heaven.
So what is a Donair exactly?
It is ground beef, perfectly seasoned and then pulverized to form a dense, spicy loaf. This loaf is thinly sliced, fried until crispy, and placed upon a warm freshly baked pita. Topped with fresh tomatoes and some diced Spanish onion, drizzled with sweet Donair sauce, and then wrapped to fit snuggly in your hand. The flavours are utterly unique and absolutely delicious. Street corners are littered with bodies hunched over devouring this treat as they migrate to their next stop. It’s a social feast of epic proportions as strangers cheers their Donair wraps and dig right in. With sauces dripping from their hands and smiles across their faces the Donair love is real. And you feel it. Right away.
Make it at home
Therefor it was only fitting that upon my attempt to make this delectable treat in my kitchen, I reach out to the one person who has managed to nail this recipe for those of us at home. This person’s name is Jennifer Crawford. Sound familiar? Well as luck would have it this Nova Scotian native gained entry to compete in Master Chef Canada with a glorious version of a Donair meat recipe. This talented chef went on to win the competition and now Jennifer’s culinary magic is spreading across the country like wildfire. Jennifer is funny, personable, and exceptionally talented.
They have graciously posted their Donair recipe online and you can find it here. Jennifer was a delight when I reached out, giving me some tips on how to make this dish perfect. Their sound advice was this; “Take that ground beef and unleash any aggression. Work it. Work until you think you may have overworked it, and then work it some more.” They are not wrong and I encourage you to give this a try.
Furthermore, I encourage you to descend upon Halifax harbour, take in the sights, the sounds, and the amazing that is this incredible city. And after you have had your fill of nightlife fun and adventure, wander towards the famous intersection of Blowers & Grafton known as “pizza corner.” There you will find many a legendary Halifax Street Food Shop waiting to introduce you to the culinary experience that is the Halifax Donair.