All you need to know about Souvlaki
Most of us have tasted souvlaki in one way or another. Souvlaki that was made with pork, lamb, or chicken and recently even beef. Yeap! It’s a new thing here in Greece. So, what is souvlaki and why is it so popular?
Basically, souvlaki is small pieces of meat (of any kind, and recently mushrooms as well) that are threaded to a skewer, sometimes along with veggies and then grilled or barbecued. Don’t confuse it with the pita-souvlaki (souvlaki wrapped in pita bread). Souvlaki (called kalamaki in some parts of Greece) is just meat on a skewer. These skewers are usually served with a few drops of lemon juice, perhaps a little dry oregano, and slices of grilled bread, or pitta bread. Simple right? Ergo the success of it!
A little bit of history
Back in the 1950s-60s some grill houses in Central Greece started serving it as a takeout to truck drivers passing through their cities, and this way souvlaki as a street-food was born. Since then, vendors all over the country sell this delicious and humble food practically everywhere. It’s also quite affordable.
It’s the go-to solution when one doesn’t feel like cooking or is coming late from work. It’s also very popular when one has company to watch a football game with, or have a movie night. Every neighborhood, in every part of Greece has at least two grill houses selling souvlaki. Impressive isn’t it?
But souvlaki goes way back. Begore the 20th century that is. We are talking millennia here!
Ancient Greeks used skewers to grill their meat, especially during religious festivities. It was only then that they consumed meat. It was part of the ritual. They were sacrificing the animal to the gods and then consumed every part of it by grilling, on the festival that was following the sacrifice. The meat of the animal was then equally divided in rations. This way everyone would eat a bit of every part of the animal. No exceptions were made. These rations were then threaded to skewers and grilled.
Archeologists found evidence of meat that has been grilled on skewers in Santorini, dating back to around 2500BC. Similar discoveries have been made in ancient mainland Greece as well, in places like Pylos and Mycenae.
Nowadays people prefer another type of souvlaki. The one we call pita-souvlaki. This is the one that everyone gets to know when visiting Greece. The round pita bread with the grilled meat in it (which may also be gyros), along with tomato, tzatziki, and onion. Some people also add French fries, parsley and paprika.
Ourselves, we prefer the old-fashioned way. The simple and humble souvlaki or as we call it in southern Greece “kalamaki” (small skewer). It makes for a light meal, if you serve it with a green salad or a horiatiki on the side.
Making Souvlaki (the right way) at home
Since travelling these days isn’t a wise decision due to the pandemic, and coming to Greece is somehow difficult for many, don’t worry; we ‘ve got you covered!
The following three recipes for souvlaki and its most popular side dishes, will take you straight to the streets of Athens and the cobbled roads of the Greek islands. Don’t forget the pitta breads and the wine (or the beer)!
So, let’s get started.
- Make the tzatziki and store it in the refrigerator in a sealed container. You can make this a day ahead. Give it a quick stir before serving.
- Grill the chicken souvlaki and keep them warm, wrapped in aluminum foil.
- While the chicken souvlaki is grilled, prepare the horiatiki salad. A small tip: season the salad and add the olive oil just before serving. This will keep your veggies fresh and vibrant.
- Drizzle the pitta breads with some olive oil, sprinkle a little dry oregano and grill them as well for a few minutes (both sides) on high heat.
You can enjoy these separately, but if you want a classic Greek souvlaki experience then the following instructions are for you.
For each pitta-souvlaki:
- Take one grilled pitta bread
- Spread a tablespoon (or more if you like) of tzatziki in the middle of the pitta bread
- Remove the grilled chicken and the veggies from the skewer and add them on top of the tzatziki
- Season with salt and paprika. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.
- Fold the pitta bread tight and use a piece of foil to hold everything together.
Your pitta-souvlaki is ready. Enjoy!