If there’s "a thing" that I definitely miss while living abroad, this is undoubtedly a greek GYROS. Anyone who has ever traveled to Greece knows exactly what a gyro is; if not, you’re either a vegetarian (well, I guess I cannot convince you) or you’ve completely missed out on indulging into the proper Greek gastronomy. It’s honestly really hard to go anywhere in Greece without bumping into a Gyradiko (a “restaurant” where they sell gyros); they’re literally everywhere. As I’ve previously mentioned, we, the Greeks, are basically people who like to sit for hours and enjoy a proper meal; however, the habit of eating gyros is probably a rare exception to this rule. It’s very common seeing people around the streets, enjoying a delicious gyro, while watching out not to make a mess of their clothes. Ah well, the majority of us usually love ordering it at home too and enjoying it alongside with friends and a good movie. In any case, sitting or not, at a restaurant or at the coziness of your home, trying a gyro is definitely a must while in Greece.
A gyros is a Greek dish made of meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie, (traditionally pork, or chicken) and usually served wrapped in a flatbread called pita, along with tomato, onion, fries and tzatziki sauce.
Rumor has it that the Greek gyros is a variation of the Turkish kebab. Many might say that they’re actually quite similar since Gyros became a famous dish in Greece following the arrival of Greek immigrants from Asia Minor in the 1920s. Those Greeks coming from Anatolia, created a greek version of the Turkish kebab; on the one hand, they maintained some of its attributes and on the other, changed it completely, using local meat, species and ingredients. The addition of Greek yogurt, which later on transformed deliciously into tzatziki, is what differentiates completely the Greek gyro from the kebab.
Of course, being Greek I’ll tell you that a gyros tastes so much better than a kebab. It simply offers a different kind of experience. On the other hand, I guess it’s subjective, go on and try it yourself to compare. The name of gyros in fact translates as “loop” or “round” since it refers to the meat, which is rotating on a skewer, over an “open fire” for hours. The word “gyro” comes from the Greek word γύρος (‘turn’), as the meat slowly turns on the spit.
Nowadays, in Greece and Cyprus, gyros meat is typically pork or chicken. It is considered to be the most convenient meal-on-the-go and keep in mind that it’s equally affordable too. The recipe?? Completely simple, really— take a healthy portion of meat, the makings of a decent salad, complete with tzatziki dressing, and wrap it up in a single piece of pita bread. Whatever the meat you choose, gyros is mainly served wrapped in soft pita bread. In most places, gyros comes stuffed with onions, fresh tomatoes, fried potatoes, and tzatziki sauce, the famous condiment made with Greek yogurt, cucumbers, and garlic. Of course, there are variations and additions- it always depends on the geographical area you are at.
“The spicy taste of the slow-cooked meat, combined with fresh tomatoes, onions and Greek tzatziki, made this wrapped delicacy popular from the very first moment of its inception.” The Greek Reporter
Ok, so now you know what a gyros is. It’s time to order it. Let’s see a few things you should keep in mind. First of all, it’s pronounced /yeeros/, repeat after me, “yeeeros”- step one complete. Upon ordering, you should specify whether you want it “ap’ola” or not. “Ap’ola” means special, basically with all the ingredients that a gyro normally comes stuffed with; tzatziki, onion, tomatoes, fries and pork meat. If you don’t eat pork, then you should better ask for chicken from the beginning. If you want it in bread- sandwichlike variation- again ask from the beginning, as I had previously said, it normally comes wrapped in pita bread.
Last but not least- if you’re in Athens, then don’t ask for a gyros; asking for “GYROS” will probably end up with them serving you a sandwich and not what I’ve been describing so far. Coming from the north, I’m basically advising you to order a gyros in the way we do it up there. In Athens, it’s a whole new story. They call the “gyros”, "souvlaki" (laughing out loud), therefore you should ask for a "pita souvlaki" I guess. When the Athenians say "let's go downtown and have a souvlaki" then they mean the whole wrapped thing with gyros meat in it. It’s complicated, I know. Still struggling when ordering in Athens.
There's an eternal debate between Athens and Thessaloniki: meat shaved from a vertical rotating spit and served in a pita is called “gyro” in Thessaloniki (gyro means “to turn”). The same thing is also called by the more generic term “souvlaki” in Athens (a “souvla” is a skewer).
To conclude, keep in mind that if you feel like sitting down and enjoying your meal properly, you can also order “gyros merida”. It’s basically gyros on a plate, with salad and fries on the side. PS. the gyros in Thessaloniki is probably double the size of the Athenian one. Not expressing my humble opinion, just saying…
There’s nothing like lounging on a chair overlooking the Aegean and taking that memorable first bite...
Cover Picture © Credits to istock/summerphotos
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