Souvlaki – or souvlakia (just plural) – is a famous Greek food, often called Greek fast food, although it’s far healthier than any other “fast food” members.
Greek Souvlaki consists of small pieces of grilled meat served alone on the skewer, or together with some other ingredients in pita bread, or on a dinner plate. Each way of serving has its own name, but the souvlaki meat is not missing in any combination.
When you want to order souvlaki in Greece, and you order just “souvlaki”, you won’t get the same thing in all parts of Greece. For example, in Athens, souvlaki alone means pita-souvlaki, while in Thessaloniki it means kalamaki souvlaki (“on the stick”).
If important, and if we want to make a conclusion what should be the “real souvlaki” based on the root of the word, then grilled pieces of meat on stick should be the basic souvlaki, since “souvlaki” is a diminutive of souvla (skewer) and literally means “little skewer”.
History of Souvlaki
This hard-to-resist food goes way back to the ancient times and Homer, to whom the oldest known references of souvlaki are subscribed. No reminiscent of the ancient souvlaki skewers are found yet, but very similar recipes are.
Back then, it was known as “oveliskos” and “kandavlos”, historic books say. Kandavlos, more known of these two Ancient Greek souvlaki recipes, combined grilled meat, pita, cheese and dill, wrote Athenaeus.
Much later, in Constantinople of Byzantine times, souvlakia (under that name) were sold in the streets. Thus, souvlaki is well traced and historically known. And equally adored and eaten by Greeks of all centuries.
The first souvlaki shop in Greece
The first ever souvlaki exclusive shop opened its doors in the town of Livadia in central Greece in 1951. Souvlakia (on stick) and gyros were served there. Today, souvlaki is sold in thousands of souvlatzidika across Greece, small eateries or shops specialized in souvlakia and gyros as the very first one was. Not to mention restaurants and taverns all over Greece that can’t miss souvlakia on their menu.
Many Greeks would tell you that the appetite for souvlaki comes all of a sudden and you simply need to have a place close by where you can get it. That’s why souvlakia can be bought everywhere in Greece, even on beaches or along the roads.
The problem is, that all those souvlaki places smell so appealing that, even if you are not really hungry, that smell will penetrate your senses so vigorously that you won’t be able to resist. Well, because of tourism and Greeks’ commitment to celebrate their food, they even decided to please their vegetarian visitors offering them vegetarian souvlakia, although…to say the truth, souvlaki is all about juicy, perfectly grilled meat.
The secret of great taste and smell of souvlaki while making it, is that meat is prepared in advance, cubed into small pieced and marinated for a few hours in freshly squeezed lemon juice and olive oil, combined with herbs and spices – oregano, thyme, salt and pepper, and broiled over charcoal.
Is pork souvlaki the only Greek souvlaki?
Traditional meat used for souvlaki in Greece is pork and lately chicken, but there are other variations as well, like beef, lamb, swordfish, even a vegetarian souvlaki with no meat in it.