A local foodie has released a new book chronicling the history of Halifax’s official food: the donair.
Lindsay Wickstrom, who runs the Halifax food blog Eat This Town, is the author of Book of Donair. After researching Canadian food and food regional to Nova Scotia, she started learning more about the popular late-night food.
“The donair was obviously on my radar because it’s very unique to the Maritimes,” Wickstrom says. “I wrote a big long blog post about it and I’ve become known as the donair historian.”
In Dec. 2015, Mayor Mike Savage made a deciding vote to declare the donair as Halifax’s official food.
Less than a year later, Wickstrom wrote her first blog post on the history of the donair. It looks at the doner kebab in the 19th century up until the 1970s when it was brought to Halifax.
What sparked Wickstrom’s interest in the donair’s history was a 1978 article from the Chronicle Herald about the first five years of the donair’s history in Halifax.
Back then, the donair’s history in Halifax was thought to be simple: Peter Gamoulakos, a Greek immigrant, adapted the recipe of the gyro to appeal to Maritimers and opened King of Donair on Quinpool Road in 1973.
But this was a slightly different story from what Wickstrom had believed. Instead, she says the story is a bit more complicated.
After heavily researching the subject, Wickstrom wrote a second part to the history of the donair in 2019 where she looks at its legacy and true origin in Halifax.
While the sweet and spicy dish is a favourite among many Haligonians, Wickstrom says she was scared to try a donair for most of her childhood.
“They were kind of wrapped in urban legend,” she says. “Like, ‘what’s in them? Are they dirty? They smell funny.’”
But since starting Eat This Town, she’s tried numerous donairs — even from cities across Canada like Toronto, Calgary and Edmonton.
Even though some may think the donair is exclusively part of Canada’s east coast, in Book of Donair, Wickstrom says she states the donair is a national food.
She says the book looks at both a Halifax-style donair and an Edmonton-style donair. It also recognizes how restaurants in other parts of Canada may pay tribute to either style, both or create a different style altogether that resembles a shawarma.
Book of Donair is now available in bookstores across the Maritimes.