Gyro and Souvlaki:
The Changing Face of an Open-Faced Sandwich
Ask any American to mention the first Greek food item that comes to mind and their answer is almost always gyro. Seems everywhere you turn now, gyro is popping up on the menu, from your typical Greek-owned restaurant or diner all the way down to some more unexpected places, like the Asian-owned delis of Georgetown. But what about the souvlaki, the gyro’s often overlooked cousin? While not making the transition to the popular American menu or its collective consciousness, the souvlaki remains just as much a Greek fast food delicacy as the gyro. So let’s take time to celebrate the two most popular Greek fast food sandwiches, the gyro and the souvlaki.
the gyro and the souvlaki are perhaps the ultimate in fast food perfection.
Long before “wraps” or “twisters,” there was the gyro and
souvlaki, serving as the most convenient meal-on-the-go.
It’s simple really— take a healthy portion of meat, the makings of a
decent salad, complete with dressing, and wrap it up in a single piece of bread. Now the souvlaki is traditionally served with feta cheese,
while the gyro is not. Why is that?
Is there something about the beef and lamb mixture of gyro that makes it
good enough to serve without feta? We
don’t think there’s a real answer to this question.
Ask any Greek restaurant owner or Greek festival volunteer and they
won’t be able to tell you the real reason for the distinction.
They’ll tell you that that’s the way it’s always been.
widening appeal of the gyro in this country has led to it being served from
every diner to deli in most metropolitan areas. This has led to more and more bad gyro experiences in this
country than ever before. The gyro
gets it name from the spinning motion of the meat on the cone.
More than a few restaurants seem to forget this origin and serve gyro
that comes in either as a gyroloaf or worse, pre-sliced, like bacon.
The fact that gyro makers in this country would even have this as an
option is sad. The preformed meat
cone is bad enough. In Greece, for
reasons we won’t get into, the cone doesn’t come looking so perfectly shaped
– it’s shaped more like a spool of kite string after it’s been wrapped up
by a six-year old.
of gyro makers, what’s the deal with the girl on the gyro poster?
You know the girl --the Barbie doll looking blonde girl who is so
obviously not Greek and has never eaten anything close to a gyro in her life.
what is it about people in this country not being able to correctly pronounce
“gyro?” It’s not /jI-rO/,
like gyroscope, it’s /yE-rO/. We
remember one time when one of us was taking a carry out order over the phone
back when our parents used to own a restaurant.
The man on the other end ordered what at the time was thought to be three
hero sandwiches. The customer was
asked if he wanted lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, and oil and vinegar, the
standard fixings for an Italian Hero sandwich.
The guy agreed that this would be a good idea. The customer came to pick up his order a few minutes later,
expecting to find three gyro sandwiches. The
first time an American actually pronounced “gyro” correctly so that it
rhymes with “hero,” ended up costing the customer a few extra minutes to
correct our mistake and ended up in us having a pretty big lunch of three hero
sandwiches. Sure it was our fault
for taking the order the wrong, but any guy who’d want mayonnaise on a gyro
isn’t completely blameless.
the souvlaki can’t be mistaken for any other sandwich, except perhaps for a
gyro. But there are variations when
it comes to souvlaki. There is the
traditional souvlaki on a stick. That’s
all you get, chunks of meat, no lettuce, no tzatziki. There isn’t any possible way you can make this into a
sandwich, because if you do get bread with this, it’s that French bread
knock-off that comes in the huge rings that you buy at the Greek import store.
Of course lately, there has been a change in the menu, even among Greek
restaurants. This change that
we’re talking about is the introduction of the chicken souvlaki.
When health consciousness and dietary restrictions hit a Greek menu,
there can only be trouble. Souvlaki
is pork, period. It’s not
chicken. Greeks eat their chicken one way, whole, with the bones still
in it and the skin still on it. What’s
next, turkey souvlaki? Greeks eat
their turkey one way… they don’t. (Admit
it, many of you grew up with lamb on Thanksgiving until you were old enough to
do your own food shopping for the holiday.)
of the “Westernization” of Greek culture, the gyro and souvlaki have been
disturbingly affected by the same phenomena that has led to techno beats in our
music, English words replacing perfectly good and more descriptive Greek words
in our vocabulary, and to islands like Mykonos resembling the stores of Tyson's
Corner mall. The last time we were
in Greece we started noticing that even the most traditional mom-and-pop gyro
and souvlaki stands were starting to put the oddest thing in the middle of the
sandwich… French fries.
What the heck is that? It
was like someone decided to take all the makings of a gyro or souvlaki platter
and cram them into a sandwich. It’s
like when you go to Wrapworks or any other “hip” wrap place and find rice or
mashed potatoes being thrown into a tortilla along with the meat and traditional
sandwich vegetables, or when you see people putting potato chips on an Italian
Hero sandwich. The McDLT effect of
hot meat in a cool bed of lettuce, tomato, onion and tzatziki is absolutely
ruined by throwing in hot oily French fries into the mix.
Not only does the sandwich suffer, but think about the French fries
themselves, virtually becoming patates sto fourno, in the steamy envelope
of a pita sandwich. It got to the
point where we just started asking for the French fries on the side.
next time you’re in the mood for a gyro sandwich, head to a Greek-owned
restaurant where you can see the gyro cone spinning, and ask the friendly Greek
owner or employee for a gyro. Remember
if it’s not on a cone, leave it alone. Pronounce
it correctly and ask for the works, including onion, and the owner may just
throw a little extra meat or sauce on there as well.
If it’s souvlaki you want, and if they give you a choice, ask for the
original “other white meat” and know that this is actually the healthiest
way to get pork in a sandwich. Kali