Donair and Tacos al Pastor – A Family Tree Update

Click here to go to printable recipe:  Don Ari Tacos

This Sunday, July 1st, is Canada Day.  Last year, a major milestone was reached, as it was Canada’s sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary of the formation of the Dominion of Canada, the first self-governing territory of the British Commonwealth. One of the recipes I tried was “East Coast Donair”, the official food of Halifax, Nova Scotia, published in the special anniversary issue (July 2017) of Canadian Living.  As described by the magazine, the “… donair is the Canadian cousin to the Turkish doner, Middle Eastern shawarma and Greek gyro.” It appeared in Nova Scotia in the 1970s, modelled after the gyro sandwich, but adapted to the local taste by using beef instead of lamb, and by the creation of its one-of-a-kind sweet and garlicky creamy sauce.  Tracing back the history of this dish, it all started with the doner kebap, created in Turkey in the 19th Century (then the Ottoman Empire); the general description of the dish is as an inverted cone of pressed and seasoned meat, grilled vertically, from which cooked thin layers are shaved.  The dish became popular at the beginning of the 20th Century, when small restaurants offering the rotating grilled meat started opening in Constantinople (now Istanbul); from there, every region controlled by the Ottoman Empire developed its own version: the original meat was lamb, also traditional for gyros in Greece; it was called kas, in Iraq; and shawarma in Lebanon and Syria, amongst others, where it could be made from any meat except pork.  Later on, Turkish immigrants brought the doner to Europe; Germany was the first to enjoy Döner Kebab in sandwich form, in the mid 1960s.  The Greek style gyro was already popular in New York City in the early 1970s.  In Mexico, there were two generations.  First, in the 1930s, in Puebla, with the “taco árabe”, created by immigrants from the Middle East, which quickly evolved from the original lamb recipe on pita, to layers of pressed pork and onions, with a choice of pita or tortilla as the wrap, served with salsa.  Later on, in the 1960s, the seasoning for the meat also evolved to include pimentón (sweet paprika) and Mexican peppers, and the tacos were stuffed with cilantro and onions.  At some point, probably in Mexico City, a sliver of grilled pineapple could be seen flying right into these corn tortilla tacos, masterfully propelled by the taquero’s knife, and now are known as “tacos al pastor” (shepherd style tacos), probably as a nod to its lamb predecessor.  Nowadays, almost anywhere around the world it is possible to find different versions of many of these sandwiches, such as my donair lunch at a mall in Ontario, Canada:

Donair in Ontario

or this gyro restaurant in Sinaloa, Mexico:

Gyros en Culiacan

I wonder what is available in Asia, Africa, Australia, …

To continue this lineage, this year I attempted to create a new generation of doner, from the marriage of the Canadian donair and the Mexican taco al pastor (don’t worry, according to my diagram of their family tree below, they are not too close relatives).  I used the recipe for the Canadian donair as a starting point, but substituted some ground pork for the beef, to add a Mexican component, and changed the seasoning ratios.  Then, I prepared traditional toppings from both “parent dishes”: cilantro, onion and lime from the pastor, and lettuce, tomato and onions from the donair.  I also prepared grilled pineapple, a chipotle/tomato salsa, and donair sweet/garlic sauce.  There were pitas and corn tortillas available.  In the end, after some mix and match, the best combos had the wraps pairing their original toppings (photo at the top of the post), but I thought the doctored shaved meat was a really good addition to both, especially the taco, which I named “Don Ari.”

Note: The East Coast donair and sweet sauce recipes are available on the Canadian Living website

Don Ari Tacos

Printable recipe: Don Ari Tacos


1 lb (454 g) lean ground beef
1lb (454 g) regular ground pork (I used raw mild Italian sausage)
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp sweet paprika
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp onion powder
2 cloves garlic, minced

1 large tomato
1 small white onion, cut into pieces
2 pickled chipotle peppers (from can)
Salt, to taste

To assemble:
Warm corn tortillas
Cilantro and onion, chopped
2 cups fresh pineapple, peeled, cored and sliced thinly (1/4 inch thick)
Lime wedges

Preheat oven to 300°F (150°C).  Prepare a greased rack on top of a baking tray lined with aluminum foil; set aside.  Place all the ingredients for the meat in a large bowl:

donair meat

Mix with a spatula, then knead until perfectly uniform.  Shape into a loaf, and place on top of the greased rack an into the preheated oven.  Bake for about 2 hours, until fully cooked, browned and crispy:

Let stand outside the oven, uncovered, for at least half an hour (or cool completely, wrap and keep refrigerated overnight).  Meanwhile, place pineapple slices in an oven-proof plate, and broil until charred and slightly caramelized, set aside.  Prepare sauce: place whole tomato and onion chunks on a very hot dry iron skillet, and cook until charred (tatemados), turning frequently:

tatemando tomates y cebolla

Carefully remove stem end from tomato, slice into quarters and blend until smooth with onion chunks, salt to taste, and chipotle peppers (a little juice from the peppers is optional, for extra heat).  Set aside.  To assemble the Don Ari tacos: slice the meatloaf as thinly as possible, the closer to shavings, the better.  If the loaf was cold from the fridge, stir fry the shavings for a couple of minutes; if not, stir frying is optional (most of ours just disappeared into the wraps, as I was slicing.)  Fill corn tortillas with hot meat shavings, cilantro, onions, grilled pineapple and top with chipotle sauce.  Serve with lime wedges:

close up for salsa cover

Just for fun –  the Don Ari taco partial genealogy:

Don Ari family tree

Acknowledging “National Meatloaf Day” on October 18, I am bringing these recipes to What’s for Dinner? Sunday Link-Up #285 with Helen @ The Lazy Gastronome.

11 thoughts on “Donair and Tacos al Pastor – A Family Tree Update

  1. Delicious!! I love the idea of a pastor gyro – Thanks for sharing at the What’s for Dinner party. Hope you have a cozy week.


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