Greek Gyros: O gyros gyrizei
Does the above sound Greek to you? Of course it does, after all it is pure Greek and it simply means that the “gyros” turns around. A “gyros” is a full turn and the verb “gyrizo” means “to rotate”. In Greece, gyros is also a type of fast food. Gyros turns, cooks and becomes a sandwich for hungry passers-by.
Take a stroll around any town centre in Greece and you’ll soon spot the Greek fast food outlets, souvlaki shops, cooking and selling gyros pitas and souvlaki to customers who walk on, enjoying their fast food in big, hasty bites. Of course some people prefer to sit at one of the few tables to enjoy their food in comfort, drink a beer and avoid getting grease on their clothes.
What is Greek gyros? Why, the well-known upright spit stacked with thin slices of pork that rotates slowly in front of the electric bars or, in rare cases, coals. The heat melts the fat, which drips from the bottom end of the spit, and the fat cone of meat becomes nicely brown and crunchy as it turns.
Sacks of chips are fried in nearby professional chip fryers, while the pita bread is basted in olive oil and heated on the grill. All these ingredients are part of the gyros you’ve just ordered.
Greek Pita Gyros step-by-step
The customer orders a pita with gyros. The bloke behind the counter asks if that’s “me ola” (with everything) and the customer says yes, meaning that he wants tomato, yoghourt and onions with his gyros. There follows an exhibition of skill and prestidigitation. The trained movements are automatic, coordinated and very fast. This is how you can tell the expert from the novice, whose hands tremble and move slowly.
Let’s watch the expert in slow motion:
- The cook checks to see if the pita and chips are ready. Once he’s sure everything’s in order, he sharpens his knives and starts to cut thin strips off the cooked outer surface of the gyros.
- His left hand turns palm up with the fingers spread. He places a paper napkin and a piece of greaseproof paper on it with his right.
- He grabs a grilled pita from the pile of ready ones and sets it on the greaseproof paper.
- He spreads yoghourt on the pita.
- He picks up the cut strips of gyros with the tongs and adds them to the pita.
- He adds the chips, tomato slices and onion rings.
- Using both hands, he wraps the pita into a fat roll and wraps the paper round it to contain it.
- The gyros pita is ready and presented to the customer with a polite “kali orexi” (bon appétit).
The history of Greek gyros
According to historical sources, in 9th-century Baghdad they made “Judhaba”, a dish similar to gyros. There is no other reference over the following centuries. Today it is believed that gyros was first made in Livadia in the 1950s, where the first souvlaki on a wooden stick was also invented.
Types of gyros - Gyros in various areas of Greece
In Greece gyros is traditionally made of pork. In recent years chicken gyros has appeared, thanks to its low fat content. Recently the doner kebab has also shown up, made of mixed lamb and beef mince.
In the Greek gyros, the pita bread is not cut open to insert the meat and vegetables, That is the Cypriot pita, which has a different flavour to the traditional Greek variety.
There is also the version in half a small loaf of bread with the centre removed, which is basted and grilled like pita bread.
In northern Greece gyros is served with mustard or ketchup instead of yoghourt. In Athens, gyros does not include chips and is smaller than the portion you’ll eat in Crete.
Is gyros healthy?
According to the people who cook and sell them, gyros has less fat and fewer calories than pizza or burgers. They say that pork fat lies under the skin, so it’s removed when the pig is slaughtered. On the other hand, when you see how much fat drips off the gyros as it cooks and spot the lumps of fat in the cooked meat, you may be forgiven for having serious doubts about their assertions.
There is fat everywhere in a Greek gyros pita: in the pita itself, which is basted with oil before grilling, in the pork and the chips. The only innocent ingredients are the tomato and onion. All the rest will provide you will plenty of calories and raise your cholesterol.
Of course, the fact is that gyros is tasty, cheap and filling. If you don’t overdo it and just have one every so often, it won’t do you any harm.
Recipe for Greek gyros - Making a Pita Gyros at home
This is probably the best way of enjoying a healthier gyros with quality ingredients. Ready-made pita bread is sold in all major supermarkets and pork is readily available. Recently, special herb and spice mixtures for gyros have come on the market, although oregano, salt, pepper and cumin are found in every home. The recipe below is just one of the many variations you can try. With a bit of imagination and experimentation you can create your own perfect gyros recipe.
Cut the meat into narrow, thin strips and marinade it in a little vinegar. Add a dash of oregano and cumin if you like the flavour. Defrost the pita bread, slice the tomato and onion thinly and fry the chips. You’ll also need some yoghourt, tzatziki, mustard or whatever else you want to spread on the pita.
When the meat is ready, cook it on the grill along with the pitas. Spread your chosen sauce on the pitas and add the meat, tomato and onion. The chips can go in the pita too or be served separately on the plate. The second option makes it easier to wrap the pita as it won’t be too full.
Accompany your tasty Greek gyros pitas with a bottle of good Greek wine and “Kali Orexi”!
* Article and Photos by Yannis Samatas - All Rights Reserved.