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​The Döner Dispute Between Turkey and Germany

​The Döner Dispute Between Turkey and Germany

Posted by Emily on 29th Jun 2024

Germany's beloved döner kebab, a staple millions enjoy, is at the centre of an international conflict. The döner kebab, consisting of thin slices of veal served in toasted bread with salad and savoury sauces, is a national favourite. One-third of Germans consume at least one a month from over 15,000 kebab kiosks, including 1,600 in Berlin.

Recently, Turkey has sought to protect its traditional preparation method by applying to the European Union for regulatory recognition. The Turkish Kebab Association in Istanbul aims to have their recipe protected similarly to mozzarella or Neapolitan pizza. This move has sparked a fierce debate in Germany, where the dish has evolved into a unique version of its own.

The proposal has ignited what some critics are calling a "global food war" and an "assault on Germany's identity." If the EU adopts Turkey's regulations, German döner vendors would be required to either change their recipes or rename their product, facing potential fines or even imprisonment for non-compliance. This has prompted a strong response from German kebab makers, who, on the last day for objections, petitioned their food ministry to oppose Turkey's application.

The stakes are high, with a Europe-wide market valued at up to €7 billion annually and the delicate bilateral relations between Turkey and Germany hanging in the balance. The contention began in April when German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Istanbul, bringing with him a 60kg pillar of German-style döner meat as a cultural tribute. Shortly after, the International Döner Federation in Istanbul submitted its application to the EU Commission, detailing strict preparation standards, including specific meat types and marination processes.

German kebab industry leaders view these standards as unjust, arguing that their version is a distinct cultural tradition akin to the difference between British chicken tikka masala and South Asian chicken tikka. Arif Keles, a Berlin kebab kiosk owner, highlighted this distinction, stating, "There is no döner in Turkey that is made the way we make it here."

The Turkish initiative has led to widespread dismay in Germany. The popular tabloid Bild warned of an impending "EU law to ban cheap döner" and published a recipe for "döner skewers à la EU." Eberhard Seidel, an author and commentator on Turkish-German cultural history, accused Turkey of attempting to monopolise "Germany's national dish." The debate has even spread to Greece, where mince-based döner kebabs are common, adding another layer of international concern.

As the EU deliberates on Turkey's application, the outcome could significantly impact the landscape in Germany and beyond.