Food sizzles and steams around every corner. But a new phenomenon arrived a few years ago: The doener kebab, a meal of grilled meat, lettuce and sauce, tucked neatly into a pocket of bread.

It's a cultural hybrid, Turkish cuisine brought by post-war migrant workers to Germany, where it was adapted into a sandwich that has become the country's top street food.

Now, it's taken a new turn along the winding road of migration, conveyed by a worker in Germany who brought the doener kebab home to his native Vietnam.

The first doener kebab stand in Hanoi opened five years ago at the Goethe Institute, the German culture centre. It soon took Hanoi by storm, with hundreds of stands like it springing up all over the city.

The mastermind of the doener kebab revolution here is neither Turkish nor German but Tran Minh Ngoc, 47, who made his mark as head chef in the restaurant of the Goethe Institute, where the menu includes German specialities like sauerkraut and spaetzle.

'But it was clear to us that the entrees that we offer here are too expensive for most students,' said the head chef.

He couldn't make the dishes any cheaper, though, because he imports many of the ingredients such as cream and seasonings like marjoram. 'We wanted to offer sometime for the students' pocket book,' he said.

Tran first considered hamburgers in buns and bratwurst with French fries, but it just didn't work out. He thought it should be something special - then he remembered his own time in Augsburg, a historic city in the southern German state of Bavaria.

Tran was a student from socialist Vietnam in Czechoslovakia in 1989, when the communist regime in Prague was toppled and the Berlin Wall fell in neighbouring Germany. Suddenly, a life in the West was within his reach.

'I wanted adventure, and I ended up over in Augsburg,' he said.

Tran worked in an Augsburg winery until 1996. Years later, looking for a way to feed Vietnamese students at the Goethe Institute, he remember his own years working in Germany: 'Suddenly, it occurred to me that we always ate doener kebabs there.'

Doing some quick calculations, Tran realized that for 40 cents, the Goethe Institute could produce a respectable doener kebab on bread with cabbage and sauce.

From Germany, he ordered a doener kebab grill and seasonings for the sauces. Tran built a wheeled cart for the grill, rolled it in front of the Goethe Institute and went into street vending.

'At first, students tried it out, and they were excited,' he said, smiling. 'Within a short time, more and more people came. We had a real line in front of the stand.'

Tran immediately had other stands built and placed them around Hanoi. He estimates hundreds more have since copied the sandwich, but that doesn't bother him.

'I didn't come up with the idea either,' Tran said. 'I myself copied it off others.'

However, Tran is convinced that his doener kebabs are closest to the German-Turkish original.

'We did, of course, alter it a bit to fit Vietnamese tastes,' he said.

Tran usually uses pork because lamb is too expensive. Instead of the usual pita bread, in which the meat, lettuce and sauce are placed, the Vietnamese use short, wide baguettes - a gastronomic relic of the French colonization of Vietnam. The French set the standard in Vietnam with light, white bread.

'But our sauce - it is the best there is in this city,' Tran said. 'We put in German seasoning. I won't reveal more.'

The price of the doner kebab has gone up to 60 cents, and it still sells like hot cakes.

Deutsche Presse Agentur - Februaty 24, 2010