Follow the Kebab

Dan Bender

The kebab is, perhaps, the original global food. From Turkey to western China to north India, it has evolved from its original form into countless local specialties. The kebab's transformation - from a humble dish to a complex blend of meat and spice, licked by smoke - is inextricably linked with the spread of Islam along the Silk Route, the pathway of trade from China and India to Europe.

The kebab’s evolution was helped along by Pax Mongolica, the long period of stability in the Eurasian region, from the 13th to the 15th centuries, after the Mongols conquered large portions of modern-day Russia, West Asia, China and South Asia. The Mongols were gifted horsemen, but perhaps their greatest strength was a willingness to assimilate into local cultures and religions, including Islam. One of their enduring legacies is the spread of the kebab, an ideal food for mounted armies always on the move.

Once the Mongols and their descendants settled into governance and a more sedentary lifestyle, the kebab transformed into myriad glorious variations. Delicious modern-day renditions of the kebab are available, simply by venturing across Scarborough, close to the UTSC campus.

Begin your kebab journey at Chinese Halal Restaurant, which serves the cuisine of the Islamic regions of western China. Here, the kebabs are bite-sized tender morsels of cumin-coated mutton roasted over an open fire. Make Shirin Kebab House your next stop and experience kebabs that have evolved into thinly sliced beef doused in tomato sauce and served with bread. Finally, visit Bihari Kabab & Biryani House—just north of the 401 from UTSC—for kebabs from the state of Bihar in north India.

Bihari Kabab House & Biryani House
1145 Morningside Ave., Unit 39

Chinese Halal Restaurant
668 Silver Star Blvd.

Shirin Kebab House
1880 Eglinton Ave. E.

Dan Bender is the Canada Research Chair in cultural history and analysis at UTSC.