By Matthew Yglesias
I certainly agree with Spencer Ackerman that real Jewish food is found in the delis of the urban United States and the Eastern European villages of yore — not the hummus and falafel that Israelis seem to have hijacked from their Arab neighbors. That said, the food of my youth was, in many ways, Middle Eastern food. Or, rather, the drunk food of my youth was since back in high school I was often intoxicated in the vicinity of MacDougal Street (now defunct institutions such as the Wreck Room and Cafe Creole, neither of which seemed very impressed by Elizabeth Dole’s minimum drinking age regulations along with one still-in-business operation that I won’t name to ward off the cops) were largely, but not entirely, responsible) home to Yatagan and Mahmoun’s Falafel.
Falafel was, obviously, an option at such establishments. But my particular love was doner kebab. It was only later in life that I became the sort of cosmopolitan person who knows that elsewhere in the United States doner kebab is not customary drunk food and, indeed, is not widely available at all. But in Europe, where people have culture, it’s everywhere.
At any rate, I’d been assuming that this was an actual Middle Eastern dish even though presumably in that region there’s not a ton of demand for drunk food. But it turns out that it was invented in the early 1970s by a Turkish immigrant living in Germany:
The chef was born in Turkey but later moved to Germany in the hope of one day opening his own restaurant. He was serving customers at a snack stall when it dawned on him that kebab meat – a mix of roasted lamb and spices traditionally eaten with rice – could be served differently.
‘I thought how much easier it would be if they could take their food with them,’ he once said.
The chef in question was Mahmut Aygün and I regret to say that he passed away last Wednesday. A hero of our time.