Souvlaki (Greek: σουβλάκι [suˈvlaci]), plural souvlakia, is a popular Greek fast food consisting of small pieces of meat and sometimes vegetables grilled on a skewer. It is usually served with grilled bread, or in a pita wrap with garnishes and sauces, or on a dinner plate, often with fried potatoes. The meat usually used in Greece and Cyprus is pork, although chicken, beef, and lamb may also be used. In other countries and for tourists, souvlaki may be made with meats such as lamb, beef, chicken, and sometimes fish (especially swordfish)..
The word souvlaki is a diminutive of the Medieval Greek σούβλα souvla 'skewer', itself borrowed from Latin subula. 'Souvlaki' is the common term in northern Greece, while in southern Greece it is commonly known as 'kalamaki'.
Excavations in Santorini, Greece, unearthed stone sets of barbecue for skewers used before the 17th century BC. In each pair of the supports, the receptions for the spits are found in absolute equivalence, while the line of small openings in the base formed a mechanism to supply the coals with oxygen so that they remained alight during its use. Mycenaean Greeks used portable trays as grills. These trays were rectangular ceramic pans that sat underneath skewers of meat but it is not clear whether these trays would have been placed directly over a fire or if the pans would have held hot coals like a portable barbecue pit. Homer in Iliad (1.465) mentions pieces of meat roasted on spits (ὀβελός). It is mentioned also amongst others in the works of Aristophanes, Xenophon, Aristotle, etc. In Classical Greece, a small spit or skewer was known as ὀβελίσκος (obeliskos), and Aristophanes mentions such skewers being used to roast thrushes, but there is no direct evidence of chunks of meat being skewered. A meat and bread recipe which resembles the way pita souvlaki is served today, with pita bread was also attested by Athenaeus in Deipnosophistae and called the plate κάνδαυλος, kandaulos.
Merída means portion. While souvlaki is eaten plain on hand as a fast food, it is also served as a full plate, served with fried potatoes, vegetables, sauce, and quartered pita bread. Usually it consists of the ingredients of a souvlaki-pita (see below), but laid out on a plate, instead of wrapped together for eating on hand.
Pita is a form of partially leavened, flat, round bread with a diameter of approximately 15 cm (5.9 in), used to wrap souvlaki or yiros. It comes pre-baked and will additionally be grilled on the meat drippings just before serving, unless the customer requests it not to be.
This course consists of souvlaki meat garnished with sliced tomatoes and onions, fried potatoes, tzatziki, and wrapped in a lightly grilled pita. Salads like ketchup and mustard, ktipiti, Russian salad or melitzanosalata can also be used as an extra option. When chicken is used instead of pork meat, tzatziki and onions are replaced with a special sauce and lettuce to be compatible with its taste; Various other garnishes and sauces are possible, including shredded lettuce, paprika, fried potatoes, ketchup, and mustard. In Athens and southern Greece it is called pita-kalamaki. Any of these components may not be included, at the request of the customer. Hungry customers may occasionally request a two-pita wrapping (diplopito) and/or a double meat serving (dikalamo).
In Corfu, a special tomato sauce is added to souvlaki, plainly called "red sauce" (κόκκινη σάλτσα).
In Cyprus, souvlaki can refer both to the small chunks of meat on a skewer, and to the dish. It is made with a large pita that has a pocket-style opening. Into this is placed the meat (traditionally lamb or pork, more recently sheftalia or chicken), which in Cypriot souvlaki is cut into slightly larger chunks. Tomatoes, cucumbers and shredded white cabbage are the usual salad additions. Onion, parsley, and pickled green chili peppers are popular accompaniments, as are yogurt and tzatziki. Cut lemons are always included with souvlaki, as they are with all grilled meats in Cyprus. Lettuce is not traditional and is seldom used in souvlaki outside of tourist resorts.
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- Georgios Babiniotis, Λεξικό της Νεας Ελληνικής Γλώσσας, s.v.; Andriotis et al., Λεξικό της κοινής νεοελληνικής, s.v. σουβλάκι, s.v. σούβλα
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- Ancient Wine, Patrick E. McGovern
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- Acharnians 1007