These days there are few British town centres that do not feature at least one kebab shop, making it difficult to imagine a time when they were not a part of this country’s fabric. Yet it was a generation ago that the comedian Arthur Smith – a regular on BBC Radio 4’s comedy slots – falling love with the doner kebab in Paris, before the storefront meat-on-spit was a regular feature of British high streets
Combining the traditional kebab menu with eyecatching decor, Veyso’s Restaurant in Hertford attracts a large number of customers, especially on weekends.
Then there was the Harry Enfield character Stavros, a kebab shop owner with broken English who first appeared on our screens in 1987. The jovial, moustachioed restauranteur was Greek – in contrast to the Turkish and German origins more often associated with the dishes he served – but helped establish widespread affection in his food. The reality is that although the lands surrounding the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean seas are inhabited by people of religions and nationalities that have often been abrasive with one another, there has been plenty of culinary crossover.
And as Arabs, Cypriots, Greeks, Kurds and Turks migrated to the UK in varying numbers over the past three quarters of a century, they brought their traditions with them.
Value for money is a key part of the appeal that has helped install the phrase “Do you want chill sauce with that?” as a key staple of late-night food stops after a British night out. Celebrities want a bit of the action too – Lord Alan Sugar, host of The Apprentice, is a regular at Kebub, a haunt in West Bromwich in the Black Country. “I just want to go home! Chicken kebab! I just want a chicken kebab!” was what Gogglebox star Scarlett Moffatt yelled after becoming swarmed by rats and cockroaches in a bushtucker trial for ITV’s I’m A Celebrity …. Get Me Out of Here! She clearly knows her home comforts.
And pop icon Cheryl Tweedy made headlines a few years ago when she said she was taking fellow star and music producer will.i.am to sample the north east’s kebab scene in Newcastle. “No matter where I am in the world, someone always comes up and says Newcastle is one of the best nights out,” Cheryl told The Sun back in 2014. “I’m taking Will to Bigg Market for a kebab. I’m planning to take him out up there.
“He took me to downtown LA. That’s where he’s from, Boyle Heights. I’ll have to show him what the North East has to offer,” she added, thus demonstrating how embedded kebabs have become in British culture.
For some celebrities, kebabs are a way of making peace. Former models Katie Price and Kerry Katona pictured themselves eating the dish together in a light-hearted Instagram post. It was an effort to quash rumours of a feud between them. “Have a kebab and then we will get it sucked out of us!”
Kerry is heard shouting at the camera at once stage. We think she was making a reference to liposuction.
It’s a favourite for Premier League football stars too. Arsenal and Germany international Mesut Ozil, who has Turkish heritage, is a regular at Likya restaurant in Golders Green, not London, and was pictured having a go at carving some meat off the kebab spit for himself.
But these days kebabs are not just a way to line your stomach late at night, as increasingly upmarket variants are being made available. When Mark Wright, star of The Only Way Is Essex, and former Coronation Street actor Michelle Keegan announced in 2015 that they were planning to get married, the couple has an unexpected twist to their nuptials: they brought in a highend Essex kebab restaurant to be their caterers.
“Make no mistake though as these are no boozy £5 kebabs to be consumed at 3am in a questionable greasy takeaway,” the Daily Mirror reported at the time,“these doner meat meals come from Sheesh in Essex’s Chigwell and cost £17.50 for a lamb shish. “The famous couple are regulars in the Essex restaurant, which is renowned for its ‘first class food and service’.” And it must have gone down well: the couple celebrated their fourth anniversary in September 2019.