Souvlaki: The Hamburger of Greece
|Souvlakis are the hamburgers of Greece. At least they were until hamburgers arrived and now hamburgers are the hamburgers of Greece. Souvlaki shops have become more scarce and fast food places more plentiful, though you should not have trouble finding a souvlaki if you want one.|
|What is a Souvlaki?
It is usually meat of some sort, beef, lamb, pork or 'unknown' that is on a giant vertical rotisserie. The souvlaki 'cook' slices off the meat as it becomes done and puts it on a round pita bread with lettuce, tomato, onions, and sadziki, a cucumber-yogurt-garlic sauce that in my opinion is what makes souvlakis great. In some souvlaki shops the meat is skewered and sometimes you can get ground beef, which is generally known as beefteki. In some upscale souvlaki shops you can get chicken souvlakis and even swordfish souvlakis (Very rare. I think there is a place next to MacDonald's at Syntagma where I saw it). Souvlaki comes in wax paper, which keeps it all together, and you eat it like you are peeling a banana. It can be messy but who cares?
|The great thing about souvlakis is that they are cheap and if your kids are hungry you can send them to the souvlaki shop for dinner. They can go and order for themselves and it will be a sort of adventure and fill them with confidence in their ability to survive in a foreign culture. Besides the souvlaki in the pita you can find street vendors selling souvlaki kalamaki which is skewered meat with a regular piece of bread instead of pita and no onions, tomatoes or sadziki.|
A Tale of 2 Souvlakis
|Where Metropoleos street meets Monistiraki square are several souvlaki shops, next to and facing each other, each one just as good as the other. But you must be careful here. If you sit down and order a 'souvlaki', the waiter will return with an enormous plate filled with salad, chopped pita-bread and a skewer or two of meat. Of course this is not the souvlaki you know and were expecting.|
|So when you go to one of these places be sure to tell them Souvlaki Sandwich. It should look like the picture on the left. This article will cost the Greek economy billions in lost souvlaki revenue but at least souvlaki lovers of the world will return home fulfilled. If it is in a plate, laying flat, with more then one skewer of meat, then send it back. (unless you want the platter, which actually is pretty good ).|
The Guide to Souvlaki
- Asking for a "souvlaki" will normally result in a kebab - meat on a skewer, especially outside Athens.
- The classic "souvlaki" known throughout the world is purchased by asking for "gyro pita" (YEE-roh PEE-tah) Note that the "pita" is essential to denote the wrap, asking for "gyro" will likely get you the full monty - a "merida" (portion) with the disappointing results Matt mentions above. On the other hand, a "souvlaki (me) pita" would be a classic souvlaki with meat from the skewer in it instead of meat sliced off the big spit.
- A "doner" is another name for "gyros" and a term more widely used in the city center rather than in the neighborhood "souvlatzidiko."
- Fancier souvlakia (kebabs) may come with pieces of onion and green bell pepper between the pieces of meat.
- Chicken souvlakia are increasingly common and many shops now carry them. Some shops have a separate spit for chicken but I'd go for the souvlaki instead.
- Any professional who calls it a "souvlaki sandwich" ought to be condemned to a year of flipping burgers at McDonalds. I've never heard of it, it's probably a strictly tourist shop term and would make any Greek look at you funny.
- Many places in the center have blackboards with the menu written on them outside the shop, usually in awful but recognizable transliterations.
- Sitting down is an implied invitation to be served a full meal. Go inside and stand in line.
- Some places will lace the onion with parsley to draw out the bitter flavor of onion that's been cut for a while. Others will combine it with lettuce.
- The meat in the gyros is commonly a blend of pork and lamb (or mystery meat). Definitely not kosher. If you're Jewish or Muslim, you'll want to avoid it and go for the souvlaki, which is usually lamb (see 2.).
- Tzatziki is meant to have the consistency of yogurt. The only thing dripping out of the bottom of a wrap should be grease, not runny tzatziki.
- Good tzatziki contains garlic - lots of it. Beware!
Source: HungryMonster Staff Writers.