If you know ten Greek words, then Souvlaki is probably one of them. Souvlaki is not only Greece’s most popular Street Food, but it’s also popular wherever you find Greeks throughout the world. Souvlaki is popular for several good reasons – it’s absolutely delicious. Plus, it’s wholesome, healthy, satisfying, and suits pretty much any budget. Your visit to Greece isn’t complete without trying this street treat at least once.
A Guide to Eating Souvlaki in Greece
What is Souvlaki?
The word “souvla” in Greek is a turning spit for roasting meat. And “-aki” at the end of any word is a diminutive- so souvlaki means a little spit- in other words, a bamboo skewer with chunks of tender seasoned meat that are charred on the grill until they are crisp and fragrant and juicy.
While we are on the subject, places that have souvlaki often also have another, related favorite – “Gyros.” This is slices of deliciously seasoned pork, or sometimes chicken, layered together on a vertical spit, and slowly roasted at the spit turns so the outside is browned and crisp and delicious and the inside stays moist and juicy.
Gyros is a little similar to “Shawarma” in concept except that it is usually pork, but sometimes chicken. Unlike shawarma, it is almost never made of beef or lamb.
How is Souvlaki Served in Restaurants?
While Souvlaki is definitely a street food, it is so popular that restaurants very often have it on their menu too. At a restaurant, souvlaki is often served as a platter.
That means you will usually get three skewers of meat (‘souvlakia’), a little pile of sliced onions and another of sliced tomatoes, some french fries, and some pita bread warmed from the grill, as well as whatever sides you order.
It is a good way to experiment and see how you like your souvlaki best – with tzatziki, with yogurt, or with other options. The meat is also so well seasoned that many people enjoy it without anything extra at all.
If you get a gyros platter instead of a souvlaki platter it is pretty much the same thing- just a nice portion of shaved seasoned meat instead of the souvlakia.
How Souvlaki is Served in ‘Souvlatzidiko’
Eating at a Greek “souvlatzidiko” at least once is a must! The souvlatzidiko is a Greek institution- every town and city has a souvlatzidiko or several. These are casual self-service places where you either get your food to go – “paketo” in Greek, or you eat at a table or counter or a stand.
Usually, there are no plates, just pieces of paper or a simple metal platter. They are neighborhood places, beloved by locals, and welcoming to visitors. It’s a great place to get a true taste of Greek life.
At a souvlatzidiko, souvlaki is usually served in a pita. First of all, a pita in Greek cuisine is unique. It is not the thinner pita that can be split and filled like a pocket as one finds in the cuisines of the Middle East, but rather a thicker, chewy round of bread.
It has a delicious flavor on its own. The pita is warmed on the grill, brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with a little salt and oregano, and then wrapped around the meat from the souvlaki or shavings of gyros meat, depending on what you want, along with some other fillings of your choice.
The classic way to serve it is with onions, tomatoes, a handful of fried potatoes
(french fries), mustard and ketchup. But souvlaki is made for customizing. Many people get some or all of those toppings, plus a spread.
That could be tzatziki – strained Greek yogurt with garlic and cucumber. Or ‘chtipti’ – spicy feta cheese spread. Or ‘melitzanosalata’- a spread of grilled egg[lant (imagine baba ghanoush without the tahini).
Another choice is “Rossiki ” – ‘Russian Salad’ which is mayonnaise loaded with many nice things like chopped pickles, and cooked carrots and potatoes. Many people eat Souvlaki simply with strained yogurt and a little sprinkle of fragrant ground paprika – a very popular way to enjoy it in Athens especially.
The pita that is wrapped into a tight cone around the fillings is then wrapped tightly in paper, even if the order is not ‘to go’.
How to Eat a Pita Souvlaki or a Pita Gyros
This is honest and unfussy food. But it is not too difficult to eat, as long as you keep it in the paper wrapper as you eat, tearing away at the paper as you make your way down. You’ll need some napkins.
What to Drink with Souvlaki
Of course, souvlaki goes with anything. But perhaps try a Greek soft drink – Greek orangeade and Greek lemonade are made with plenty of natural juice instead of added coloring and flavoring. They’re refreshing and delicious.
Beer is also perfect with souvlaki or Gyros, and Greece has many interesting microbreweries – ask the souvlatzidiko if they have something local for you to try.
Another choice of course is ‘Retsina’ – this wine with the scent of pine resin is perhaps an acquitted taste, but its bold flavor makes it a perfect pairing for souvlaki. It’s also surprisingly refreshing.
You might like: Greek drinks you should try.
It’s very difficult to find a more healthful and pure ‘fast’ food than Greek souvlaki. It is fast to order, but the philosophy behind souvlaki has nothing to do with fast food from international chain restaurants.
Souvlaki is made from lean, fresh local meat, prepared on the grill rather than fried, with fresh local vegetables and Greek yogurt as the main accompaniments. It offers all the fun of fast food but satisfies like a real meal. Souvlaki is definitely not ‘junk; food.