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What is a Donair? Getting to Know Halifax’s Official Food

Have you ever tried a Halifax donair? The meaty snack is a favourite amongst Haligonians and a surefire way for visitors to eat like a local. Keep reading to learn all about the donair, and where to find the best ones when visiting the East coast.

Chances are you have had a doner kebab, shawarma, or gyro before. More likely, you’ve had quite a few. These types of dishes have become a go-to for late-night revellers, making a name for themselves across North America as one of the best “drunk foods”. But, there’s another player in the game. A unique, Canadian favourite that is so loved that it’s actually been named the official food of Halifax – the donair.

Further reading: Canadian Foods You Need to Try at Least Once

History of the Halifax Donair

What exactly is a donair and where did it come from? The story goes that a man by the name of Peter Gamoulakos came to Canada in the 1950s. After spending some time in Greece, Peter brought back an idea to sell traditional gyros in his pizza shop. The plan failed, but instead of giving up, he decided to create a new recipe that better suited local tastes. He switched lamb to beef and added a special sauce, and so the famous Halifax Donair was born. King of Donair opened its first location on Quinpool Street in 1973, and they continue to serve delicious donairs to locals and tourists every day.

pita sandwich served on a styrofoam plate and fork to-go
What is a Donair? Getting to Know Halifax’s Official Food

Where to Find the Best Donairs

You may have come across shops and restaurants across Canada advertising donairs, but ask any Bluenoser and they will tell you that it’s not the real thing. There’s even a website dedicated to trying to find decent donairs across Canada. However, the overall consensus remains the same; the best donairs can only be found in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Since so many Nova Scotians live across Canada and get homesick for their beloved donair, King of Donair now has locations in Calgary, Edmonton, Grand Prairie, and Saskatoon. Donair King and Donair Dude also get shout-outs for serving up some of the best donairs in Vancouver.

King of Donair in Halifax may be credited as the originators of the donair, but Tony’s Famous Donairs and Pizza is another top contender for the best. Known simply as Tony’s, this Robie Street institution has been serving up delicious donairs since 1976.

Donair Ingredients

The secret to a Halifax donair is in its simplicity, and especially the sauce. And it’s a combination of all the ingredients in this tasty Canadian sandwich which makes the donair an iconic one that’s growing in popularity across the country.

To create the unique flavours of the Halifax donair, Peter switched lamb to beef and replaced the thick tzatziki for a thinner, sweeter sauce made from condensed milk. The legendary Halifax donair consists of thin slices of spiced beef laid on a warm Lebanese pita, topped with diced onion and tomato, and finally, drizzled with the sweet garlicky sauce.

Donair flavours are becoming so popular that there’s actually a thing called the ‘donair pizza’. It’s been another late-night favourite in Halifax since the early 1990s. Be sure to give it a try! Chefs are getting more creative with the donair trend and you’ll now find donair poutine, and even donair inspired doughnuts on some menus.

Interesting Facts About the Donair

The Halifax donair is an original and so beloved by the local community that it was named the official food of Halifax in 2015. It’s been featured in National Geographic and sampled by one of the world’s most renowned travelling foodies, the late Anthony Bourdain. Famous Canadians have also been spotted enjoying a Halifax donair, including Pamela Anderson, Sarah McLachlan, McGinty, and Bachman Turner Overdrive.

Headed to Halifax and wondering where’s the best spot to try one? The city has no shortage of donair shops or restaurants that serve this Canadian favourite. According to many locals, including Cailin O’Neil, the best donairs can be found at the King of Donair. Check out her video for all the sloppy and delicious details. 

Without a doubt, donairs are a homegrown Canadian snack to be proud of and a must-try for anyone visiting Halifax. 

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