Canadian Favourites: The Halifax Donair

 

Donair from Mister Donair, Halifax

Donair from Mister Donair, Halifax

 

Earlier this month Toronto lost one of its most critically acclaimed restaurants as Geoff Hopgood closed his beloved Roncesvalles eatery, Hopgood’s Foodliner. Geoff introduced a lot of us to some pretty great Maritime food with delicious high-falutin fare like marinated Nova Scotia Halibut, and wonderful low-brow grub like his famous Halifax Donair, arguably the best in town. There are still places in Toronto where you can get a donair, but we will miss this sweet Roncesvalles hot spot.

For many, the donair is the quintessential late-night-bars-are-closing snack food, right up there with poutine (there was a time when many among us had no idea what that was) and Shawarma. In fact, the donair is quite similar to the shawarma of the Middle East, Greek gyro and the Turkish Döner. Like much of the cuisine brought to this country from immigrants, it has been modified a bit, adapting to regional tastes.

 

Special at King of Donair, Halifax

Special at King of Donair, Halifax

 

The donair wasn’t really a fixture in Eastern Canada until the early seventies, when the Brothers Kamoulakos, Peter and John began selling gyros in their adopted home city of Bedford, Nova Scotia. Gyros were a big deal in their homeland, Greece, and it seemed they would catch on in Halifax too. Alas, the gyro bombed at first; lamb was too weird and the yogurt tzatziki was too strong for the sensitive maritime palate. So the Kamoulakos brothers tweaked the recipe a bit, changing the meat to beef, and concocting their own sweet sauce out of evaporated milk instead of tzatziki. Evaporated milk is ubiquitous in the maritimes, I don’t think I’ve ever been served tea at someone’s house that a can hasn’t appeared on the table. That seemed to do the trick as the magical combo of spicy meat with fresh tomatoes and onions and topped with sweet sauce, wrapped in a warm soft pita really caught on, and forty years later the Halifax city council proclaimed the donair the city’s official food. 

 

KOD-Restaurant-Wall-Art-4x4-18

 

It took a while for the donair to be commonplace in the rest of Canada, but now you can find Halifax style donair at many places around the city.  Sadly, The Fuzz Box,  Neil Dominey’s much-loved joint on the Danforth also closed in January, taking with it the best donair’s on the East Side. So what to do? For those curious and creative enough to make their own, homemade donair is not that difficult. The meat is similar to meatloaf, spiced ground beef, but you should make it dense and firm so that it can be sliced thin and hold its shape, so not a fluffy, meatball-like texture. And above all, as any Haligonian will tell you, the sauce has to be sweet, and made from evaporated milk. Otherwise it’s just not a Halifax donair.

 

Donair on the side of excess... the house specialty at Hopgoods

Donair on the side of excess…Hopgoods

 

Halifax Donair

Makes 8

Ingredients:

8 pitas

1 small onion, chopped

2 tomatoes, chopped

For the sauce:
1 can evaporated milk
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup vinegar

Meat:
2 lbs lean ground beef
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cayenne
1 egg
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix beef, spices and egg in a food processor and process until mixed well, about a minute. Form the meat into an oblong shape and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cook in preheated oven for about an hour. When it is done, remove from oven and let cool for about half an hour. Meanwhile, make the sauce by mixing the evaporated milk, garlic powder and sugar. Gradually stir in vinegar. Chop onions and tomatoes and set aside. To assemble donairs, warm the pitas in the oven. While they are warming, slice the meat in thin strips, about 5mm thick. Remove pitas from oven and lay on the meat and tomatoes and onions, and drizzle sauce all over. Roll the pita up and have at it!

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