Donairs explained: How a humble street food conquered Edmonton

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“At its root, it has everything to do with Atlantic Canadians heading west for the oil boom and bringing their traditions with them.”

Pandemic University, created by feature writer Omar Mouallem, offers 14 online writing courses in a range of topics. (Supplied)
Edmonton author and donair authority Omar Mouallem. Supplied

Mouallem agrees, saying, “We have gruff pride as a people and donair is an anti-elite meal. Nothing says you’re down to earth more than scarfing down this greasy meat bomb.”

Edmonton foodie Ramneek Tung, who pens raucous pieces for his Ramneek’s Food Reviews site, credits immigrants for expanding Edmonton’s palate beyond comfort food to more spicier fare such as donairs.

“The thing with eastern cuisine is seasoning matters. I understand why eastern folk are fond of donairs, but I think Caucasians also adopted the food because submarine sandwiches suck,” says Tung. “With donairs, the emphasis is on generous amounts of well-seasoned meat. The bread is the supporting character, which is rarely the case with submarines.”

What’s the difference between Halifax and Edmonton donairs?

In the past such scrutiny was only heard from visiting Maritimers shocked to see donairs flourishing in the prairies, like a forgotten colony. The No.1 bone of contention in the donair wars: lettuce.

“A Halifax donair has only five ingredients: Donair meat (always beef), Lebanese pita, onions, tomatoes, donair sauce — what Albertans call sweet sauce,” says Wickstrom. “Edmonton plays a little more fast and loose with the recipe.”

She points to lettuce on Edmonton donairs as “completely blasphemous” in Halifax.

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