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 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).
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 Ilad (1.465) mentions pieces of meat roasted on spits (οβελός). 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 gyros. 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, ketchup and mustard, and wrapped in a lightly grilled pita. Salads like tzatziki, 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 refers to the small chunks of meat on a skewer, as well as the whole package of it being wrapped up in bread and salad, etc. A large pita is used, and it has a pocket in the middle so it is not wrapped around the meat and salad. This contains lamb, pork or more recently chicken souvlaki and/or sheftalia, with tomatoes and cucumbers and white cabbage mixed within. Lettuce is rarely added, only for tourists. Raw onion and parsley are very popular with souvlakia in Cyprus, as are pickled green chili peppers. Like all grilled meat dishes in Cyprus, souvlakia are always accompanied by fresh lemon halves or quarters, and plain thick yogurt or tzatziki are also popular accompaniments. The meat is cut into slightly larger chunks in Cyprus, and more ingredients are stuffed into the pita. The portion sizes are normal and "reinforced"-enischimeni. The pita in which souvlakia are served is a little thicker than the flat pita available in other countries.
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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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- Acharnians 1007