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Kebab in an Iranian Restaurant.

Kebab (Arabic: كباب‎, also kebap, kabab, kebob, kabob, kibob, kebhav, kephav) is a wide variety of meat dishes originating in southwest and south Asia, and now found worldwide. In English, kebab with no qualification generally refers more specifically to shish kebab or döner kebab served wrapped in bread with a salad and a dressing. But in southwest and south Asia, kebab includes grilled, roasted, and stewed dishes of large or small cuts of meat, or even ground meat; it may be served on plates, in sandwiches, or in bowls. The traditional meat for kebab is lamb, but depending on local tastes and taboos, it may now be beef, goat, chicken, pork; fish and seafood; or even vegetarian foods like tofu. Like other ethnic foods brought by immigrants and travellers, the kebab has become part of everyday cuisine in multicultural countries around the globe.



The word kabab (کباب) is ultimately from Persian and originally meant fried not grilled meat.[1] The Arabic word possibly derives from Aramaic כבבא kabbābā, which probably has its origins in Akkadian kabābu meaning "to burn, char".[2] In the 14th century, kebab is defined to be synonymous with tabahajah, a Persian word for a dish of fried meat pieces. The Persian word was considered more high-toned in the medieval period. Kebab was used frequently in Persian books of that time to refer to meatballs made of ground or pounded chicken or lamb [3][4][5]. In the modern period, kebab gained its current meaning of shish kebab, whereas earlier shiwa` شواء had been the Arabic word for grilled meat. Kebab still retains its original meaning in the names for stew-like dishes such as tas kebab (bowl kebab).[1] Similarly, kebab halla is an Egyptian dish of stewed beef and onions.


The origin of kebab may lie in the short supply of cooking fuel in the Near East, which made the cooking of large foods difficult, while urban economies made it easy to obtain small cuts of meat at a butcher's shop.[1] The phrase is essentially Persian in origin and Arabic tradition has it that the dish was invented by medieval Iranic soldiers who used their swords to grill meat over open-field fires.[6] However, others have claimed the dish has been native to the Near East and East Mediterranean since ancient times[1]. Αn early variant of kebab ("obeliskos"[7]) is mentioned in Ancient Greece as early as 8th century BCE (archaic period) in Homer's Iliad[8] and Odyssey[6] and in classical Greece, amongst others in the works of Aristophanes,[9] Xenophon[10] and Aristotle[11] and there are also claims citing pictures of Byzantine Greeks preparing shish kebabs[citation needed].

Ibn Battuta records that kebab was served in the royal houses of India since at least the Sultanate period, and even commoners would enjoy it for breakfast with naan.[12]


Left to right: Chenjeh Kebab, Kebab Koobideh, Jujeh Kebab in an Afghan restaurant.

The kebab term is applied to Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Cypriot, Iraqi, Pakistani, Indian, Central Asian, South Asian and some of the African cuisines.



See also Shashlik

Shish kebab (in which "shish" is from Turkish şiş, pronounced /ʃiʃ/, meaning "skewer") is a dish consisting of meat threaded on a skewer and grilled. Any kind of meat may be used; cubes of fruit or vegetables are often threaded on the skewer as well. Typical vegetables include eggplant, tomato, bell pepper, onions, and mushrooms.

In North American English, the word "kebab" usually refers to shish kebab.[1][13]


İskender kebap, the original döner kebab invented in Bursa, Turkey.
Slicing döner kebab off a rotating vertical spit.

Döner kebab, literally "rotating kebab" in Turkish, is sliced lamb, beef or chicken, slowly roasted on a vertical rotating spit. The Middle Eastern shawarma, Mexican tacos al pastor and Greek gyros are all derived from the Turkish döner kebab which was invented in Bursa in the 19th century.[14] Döner kebab is most popularly served in pita bread, as it is best known, with salad, but is also served in a dish with a salad and bread or French fries on the side, or used for Turkish pizzas called pide or "kebabpizza". Take-out döner kebab or shawarma restaurants are common in many parts of Europe. Döner kebab is popular in many European countries, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

In Europe 'kebab' usually refers to döner kebab in pita. Australian Doner Kebabs are usually served in wraps which are toasted before eating.

In Australia and the UK, kebabs (or döner meat and chips) are most popularly eaten after a night out, representing a large part of nightlife culture. As a result, many kebab shops (and vans) will do their main business in the hours around closing time for local pubs and clubs (usually from 10 pm to 4 am). The same applies for Belgium, The Netherlands, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada and Scandinavia. It is therefore not uncommon to find similar late-night kebab vending shops in holiday-clubbing destinations such as Ibiza.

Health concerns about döner kebab, including unacceptable salt and fat levels and improper labeling of meat used, are repeatedly reported in UK media.[15][16][17] The German-style döner kebab was supposedly invented by a Turkish immigrant in Berlin in the 1970s, and became a popular German take-away food during the 1990s, but is almost exclusively sold by Turks and considered a Turkish specialty in Germany.


Chicken tikka kebab served in an Indian restaurant in Mumbai

Cooked in a tandoor, Kathi kebab is one of the most famous tandoori dishes, besides tandoori chicken, which has made tandoori cuisine famous worldwide. Made with beef, chicken or lamb meat, it is mostly prepared with a mix of spices, and cooked in a tandoor with skewers. The radiant heat from the tandoor slowly cooks the meat and due to the lack of direct heat from the fire, the juices remain inside while adding flavour, keeping the meat's moisture intact. It is usually served with rice, or a variety of Indian breads, along with onions and mint sauce.


Kakori kebab is a South Asian kebab attributed to the city of Kakori in Uttar Pradesh, India. The kebab is made of finely ground mince goat meat with spices and then charcoal grilled on a skewer. It is commonly served with Roomali Roti (a very thin bread), onion and a mint chutney (sauce). The meat is ground to a fine paste and kept moist so the texture is soft. There is a legend that it was first prepared for old and toothless pilgrims.[18]


Chapli kebab or chappal kebab is a patty made from beef mince,[19] and is one of the popular barbecue meals in Pakistan. It is prepared flat and round and served with yoghurt sauce (raita), salad and naan bread. The dish originates from Mardan (Takhtbhai) and Mansehra (Qalanderabad) regions of Pakistan.


Burrah kebab is another kebab from Mughlai Cuisine, fairly popular in South Asia. This is usually made of goat meat, liberally marinated with spices and charcoal grilled.


Kalmi Kebab served with onions in Delhi, India.

Kalmi kebab is one of the popular snacks in Indian cuisine. The dish is made by marinating chicken drumsticks and placing them in a tandoor. Various kinds of freshly ground Indian spices are added to the yogurt used for the marination of the chicken. When prepared, the drumsticks are usually garnished by mint leaves and served with onions and Indian bread.

The origins of this dish trace to Balochistan. It became popular in northern India during the Mughal era and its popularity in various parts of India, especially Delhi, has been maintained since. The kebab is also popular among the Indian diaspora around the world.


Galouti Kabab as served in Lucknow, India

One of the more delicate kebabs from South Asia, made of minced goat / beef meat. It was supposedly made for a Nawab in Lucknow who could not eat the regular Kebabs due to weak teeth.

The Galouti Kebab is part of the "Awadhi Cuisine". Along with the Lucknowi biryani and Kakori Kebab, this is one of the outstanding highlights of the great food tradition from the Awadh region in Uttar Pradesh, India.

Many leading Indian hotel chains have taken to popularising the Awadhi food tradition, with the Galouti Kebab being a Pièce de résistance.

The home of this kebab is Lucknow. It is most famously had at the almost iconic eatery "Tundey Miyan" at Old Lucknow. It is also a recommended speciality at the popular restaurant "Great Kabab Factory" at the Radisson Hotels in Delhi and Chennai.


Chelow kebab (Persian: چلوکباب) is a national dish of Iran. The meal is simple, consisting of steamed, saffroned basmati or Persian rice (chelow) and kabab, of which there are several distinct Persian varieties. This dish is served everywhere throughout Iran today, but traditionally was most closely associated with the northern part of the country.

It is served with the basic Iranian meal accompaniments, in addition to grilled tomatoes on the side of the rice, and butter on top of the rice. It is an old northern tradition (probably originating in Tehran) that a raw egg yolk should be placed on top of the rice as well, though this is strictly optional, and most restaurants will not serve the rice this way unless it is specifically requested. "Somagh", powdered sumac, is also made available and its use varies based on tastes to a small dash on the rice or a heavy sprinkling on both rice and meat, particularly when used with red (beef/veal/lamb) meat.

In the old bazaar tradition, the rice (which is covered with a tin lid) and accompaniments are served first, immediately followed by the kebabs, which are brought to the table by the waiter, who holds several skewers in his left hand, and a piece of flat bread (typically nan-e lavash) in his right. A skewer is placed directly on the rice and while holding the kebab down on the rice with the bread, the skewer is quickly pulled out. With the two most common kebabs, barg and koobideh, two skewers are always served. In general, bazaar kebab restaurants only serve these two varieties, though there are exceptions.

The traditional beverage of choice to accompany chelow kabab is doogh, a Persian sour yogurt drink, flavored with salt and mint, and sometimes made with carbonated mineral water.


Testi kebab as served in Goreme, Turkey

A dish from Central Anatolia and the Mid-Western Black Sea region, consisting of a mixture of meat and vegetables cooked in a clay pot or jug over fire(testi means jug in Turkish). The pot is sealed with bread dough or foil and is broken when serving.[20][21]

National varieties

In Afghanistan

The main varieties include kabob e chopan, chapli kabob, teka kabob, and shaami kabob.

In Azerbaijan

Tika kabab and lyulya kabab from mutton, as served in Kechresh, Quba Rayon, north-eastern Azerbaijan.

The main varieties include tika kabab, lyulya kabab (doyma kabab in some places), tas kababa and tava kabab. The meat for tika kabab is prepared in basdirma (an onion gravy) and then goes onto the ramrods. When served, it could be adorned with sauce-like pomegranate addon (narsharab) and other condiments, and may also be served wrapped in Lavash.

In Malaysia

Kebabs in Malaysia are generally sold at pasar malam(night markets) and in shopping mall food courts. Normally the meat, after being cut from the spit is pan fried with onions and chilli sauce then placed into a pita bread pocket before being filled with condiments such as tomatoes, mayonnaise, onion and lettuce.[citation needed]

In Pakistan

Meat including beef, chicken, and lamb is used in kababs. Some popular Kabab's are:

Seekh Kababs - one of the famous Pakistani food specialities
  • Chicken Kabab (Urdu: مرغ کباب) - A popular kabab that is found both with bone and without. Not so common as the traditional Kababs.
  • Lamb Kabab (Urdu: کبابِ برہ گوشت) - The all lamb meat kabab is usually served as cubes.
  • Bihari Kabab (Urdu: بہاری کباب) - Skewer of Beef mixed with herbs and seasoning.
  • Shashlik (Urdu: شیشلیک ) - Grilled baby lamb chops (usually from the leg), typically marinated
  • Bun Kabab (Urdu: بن کباب)- A unique kabab sandwich.
  • Shawarma (Urdu: شاورما) - It is usually a kabab or lamb strips in a naan with chutney and salad.
  • Tikka Kabab (Urdu: تکہ کباب) - It is made of beef, lamb or chicken usually served as cubes

Steam kebab

Steam kebab (Turkish Buğu kebabı) is a Turkish kebab dish which is prepared in an earthenware casserole. The casserole's lid is sealed with dough in order to cook the meat in its own juices. The dish is prepared with pearl onions, garlic, thyme, and other spices. In Tekirdağ, it is served with cumin; in Izmir, it is served with mastic.[22]

Similar dishes

Anticuchos (Andean) · Banderilla (México) · Brochette (French) · Ćevapi (Balkan) · Chuanr (Chinese) · Kawap (Uygur) · Espetada (Portuguese) · Espetinho (Brazilian) · Frigărui and Mititei (Romanian) · Kebakko (Finland) · Khorovatz (Armenian) · Mtsvadi (მწვადი -Georgian) · Pinchitos (Spanish Andalusian) · Rablóhús (Hungarian) · Satay (Southeast Asia) · Shashlik (Russian) · Sosatie (South African) · Souvlaki (Σουβλάκι- Greek) · Spiedies (New York State) · Spiedino (Italian) · Suya (Nigerian) · Kkochi (Korean) · Yakitori (Japanese).


  1. ^ a b c d e Davidson, Alan (1999). Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 429. 
  2. ^ "Semitic roots of kbb". The American Heritage Dictionary. Retrieved 2008-03-16. 
  3. ^ Nasrallah, Nawal (2007). Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens: Ibn Sayyâr al-Warrâq's Tenth-century Baghdadi Cookbook. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill. ISBN 978-9004158672. 
  4. ^ Perry, Charles (2006). Baghdad Cookery Book (Petits Propos Culinaires). UK: Prospect Books. ISBN 1-903018-42-0. 
  5. ^ "An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the 13th Century". Retrieved 2009-01-13. 
  6. ^ a b Wright, Clifford A. (1999). A Mediterranean Feast. New York: William Morrow. pp. 333. 
  7. ^ Obelisksos, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, at Perseus project
  8. ^ Homer, "Iliad" 1.465
  9. ^ Aristophanes, "Acharnians" 1007, "Clouds" 178, "Wasps" 354, "Birds" 388, 672
  10. ^ Xenophon, "Hellenica" HG3.3.7
  11. ^ Aristotle, "Politics" 1324b19
  12. ^ Achaya, K. T. (1998). A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food. Delhi: Oxford University Press. pp. 115. 
  13. ^ Prosper Montagne, ed (2001). Larousse Gastronomique. New York: Clarkson Potter. pp. 646. ISBN 0-609-60971-8. 
  14. ^ Kenneth F. Kiple, Kriemhild Coneè Ornelas, eds., Cambridge World History of Food, Cambridge, 2000. ISBN 0521402166. Vol. 2, p. 1147.
  15. ^ Guardian Health — Kebab anyone?, The Guardian.
  16. ^ How unhealthy is a doner kebab?, BBC News Magazine, 21 January 2009
  17. ^ UK study reveals 'shocking' kebabs, BBC News, 27 January 2009
  18. ^ "Classic Cooking of Avadh - Google Books". Retrieved 2010-01-02. 
  19. ^ "The multicultural cookbook for students - Google Books". Retrieved 2010-01-02. 
  20. ^ Testi kebab: a general description. Retrieved on 22 May 2009
  21. ^ Testi kebab: a specialty of Cappadocia. Retrieved on 22 May 2009 (scroll to the bottom of the page)
  22. ^ Kebab aux petits oignons, Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism


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