A (spicy) beef between donair devotees divides Canada east to west
Edmonton donairs include 'sacrilegious' ingredients, Nova Scotian says
Forget pipelines, steel imports and trade talks. When it comes to dividing Canadians, nothing seems to provoke more fury than the presence of lettuce on a donair.
Adding lettuce to your spiced meat on pita is "sacrilegious," says Nicholas Nahas, the vice president of Halifax-based King of Donair. "We don't even carry it in store."
He certainly doesn't plan to introduce greens to the list of ingredients at a string of new King of Donair stores in Alberta, the first of which opened in Edmonton last week.
But that won't stop his western competitors from making donairs their own way.
"I couldn't eat a donair without lettuce myself," says Adil Asim, the owner of four PrimeTime Donair and Poutine locations in Edmonton.
Asim, from Edmonton, said it's been more than 30 years since he had his first donair. The Edmonton recipe is the one he recognizes.
"It's been that way since I can remember," he said. "In Edmonton, we do donairs a little bit differently."
But does a donair that's done differently count as the real thing? Not according to Nahas.
It's hard to find a "proper donair" in Alberta, Nahas says. "They're just not done the East Coast way."
The donair, which is said to have been invented in Nova Scotia, and was declared Halifax's official food by city officials in 2015, is a late-night staple across much of the Maritimes.
According to Nahas, the genuine article features thinly sliced spiced beef on pita, topped with tomatoes, onions and a slightly sweet sauce. It has to be wrapped in tinfoil. Parchment paper doesn't cut it.
At Asim's stores in Edmonton, customers are invited to load up their donairs with jalapeno peppers, olives and sautéed mushrooms, among other items. They can also ask the cook to sauté their donair meat in one of six different flavours, including honey garlic or pineapple curry.
"These days people want to try something new," Asim says.
People from the East Coast are "very protective of the donair," he says. "They come in quite skeptical at first."
But many of them eventually come around to a non-traditional donair, "Some of my best customers are Maritimers," Asim said.
People should consider the Edmonton spin on the donair as a regional variation of a national food, he says.
A North American pizza is very different from the original Italian dish, Asim says. "But we still call it a pizza. The same goes for the donair — even with lettuce inside."
Nahas is not so sure.
"We don't want any beef with anyone," he said about his plans for expansion into the western market. "We're just trying to make the homesick East Coasters happy."
With files from the CBC's Information Morning.