Canadian Food You Must Try: The Donair

Canadian food is a mix of many cultures including French, Italian, and American cuisine. When visiting the country, and specifically Nova Scotia, you have the opportunity to enjoy a food tradition only known to the local area. The donair is a specialty beef that has Turkish roots and is prepared in a variety of ways.

Learn about the origins of the donair and different ways to enjoy the delicious and unique Canadian cuisine.

What is the Canadian Donair?

The Canadian donair is essentially a cooked beef, although some restaurants may make it with lamb. The beef is cooked whole and then shaved down as it cooks. One of the more unique qualities of the donair is the sauce that the meat soaks in. Anyone who has eaten a donair knows the gooey and messy qualities of the meal.

The sauce that is used to create a donair typically includes garlic, condensed milk, a little sugar, and a little vinegar. Some ingredients may be added. For example, hot sauce can give the dish an extra kick. The varieties of sauce ingredients depends on the specific restaurant.

The donair was first introduced on the eastern Canadian coast in the 1970's. As more restaurants popped up, the popularity of the food quickly spread to other Canadian cities.

Donair Cooking Process

Instead of chopping the beef up into small pieces, a donair is created using a solid slab of ground meat. The meat is held up vertically on a large rotating skewer. It is typically mixed with traditional meatloaf ingredients like bread crumbs, onion powder, and other spices. As the skewer spins, the donair is heated using a wood fried oven.

Restaurant patrons can often see the donair being cooked as they arrive to eat. As the other edges of the beef is cooked, the portions are sliced off into smaller pieces. From this point, the food can either be served in a dish or cooked with extra ingredients on a grill.

Donair Dishes

Donair on it's own is great to eat, but there are several traditional Canadian dishes that it can be served with. Ordering these meals will enhance the flavors and provide more dining options.

  • Gyros: Wrapping the donair in a large piece of pita bread is one of the more traditional ways to serve the dish. Additions to the gyro includes lettuce, cheese and extra donair sauce. The gyro is often wrapped in a foil casing and heated to provide extra crispiness and heat.
  • Poutine: Pieces of donair are draped over a traditional Canadian poutine dish. Poutine is fries with gravy and cheese spread over the top. The additional of donair increases the protein and adds a strong meaty flavor.
  • Pizza: Donair pizza is a unique food that is rarely found anywhere other than eastern Canada. The pizza uses donair sauce instead of traditional sauce and the pie is topped with many slices of the meat. Whole pizzas are prepared along with individual slices. A donair pizza also mixes traditional pizza toppings like pepperoni, olives, mushrooms, and other meats.
  • Calzones: Similar to pizza, donair calzones can be ordered. The pizza dough is stuffed with sauce, donair, and cheese. A donair dipping sauce is served on the side.

Finding Donair Restaurants

One of the best areas to find donair, and especially donair pizza, is the Halifax area. The city of Halifax is located in Nova Scotia and is near other prominent Canadian cities like Dartmouth, Woodside, and Bedford. In these areas, you can find original donair restaurants, chain restaurants, and pizza restaurants that specialize in donair.

Once you've experienced traditional donair while visiting Canada, you can try it in a variety of other dishes.