Ground Lamb Gyro Gorditas

Gyros vs. Schawarma

My old pal Megan, freshly returned from a recent European jaunt, asks:

“Two things, on searching for shawarma here in Portland, I found a restaurant that sold shawarma but in parentheses labeled it gyros. Are they the same thing? And do you know where I can get some good shawarma?”

(BTW – your timing is perfect, Megan, as we’ve just posted not one, but TWO gyros recipes:

Ground Lamb Gyro Gorditas, and Easy Skillet Gyros with Tzatziki Sauce

Ground Lamb Gyro Gorditas


Both were derived in the 18th or 19th century from the Turkish Doner Kebab. Doner (rotating) and Kebab (grilled meat.)

When it was introduced to Greece, they named it “gyros,” Greek for “turn.” When it arrived in the Middle East, it was translated into the Arabic word for turning, “shawarma.”

In Greece the meat is typically pork, lamb, or beef, while the Middle Eastern version, not surprisingly, is never pork, but can be lamb, beef or chicken. In America, the meat is often a combination of beef & lamb.

The three major differences:

1. The Flavors

Gyros will have a more “Mediterranean” selection of herbs (oregano, marjoram, thyme, rosemary), while shawarma, not surprisingly, leans towards the “middle eastern” spice wheel (cardamom, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, coriander seed, turmeric.)

Either may have cumin, or pepper, and they’ll both will certainly have garlic.

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 2. The Meat

Besides the spices, is the form of meat. The meat for a gyro is a ground blend, usually some combination of lamb and beef, formed into a loaf before roasted on a spit. The shawarma meat cone is made from packed-down slices of marinated meat—often chicken, sometimes lamb, and occasionally even goat.

3. Toppings

Lastly, gyros are typically topped with onion, tomato, and tzatziki—a cold sauce made of strained yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, salt, olive oil. Schawarma, on the other hand, has a more diverse salad-bar,including tahini, tabbouleh, fattoush, cucumber, and hummus…but no tzatziki.

I love them both!

As for my favorite spot, that’s easy, my #1 for all Middle Eastern foods is Wilsonville’s Dar Essalam Moroccan Restaurant. (The apricot lamb-shank tagine is to die for, as well!)

Chef Perry