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 eaten straight off the skewer while still hot. It can be served with pita bread, fried potatoes, lemon, and sauces, but the souvlaki itself is eaten on its own, with the side dishes eaten subsequently. 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.
The word souvlaki is a diminutive of the Medieval Greek σούβλα souvla 'skewer', itself borrowed from Latin subula. 'Souvlaki' is the common term in Hellenic Macedonia and other regions of northern Greece, while in southern Greece around Athens it is commonly known as 'kalamaki', 'reed'.
As in other parts of the world, the practice of cooking food on spits or skewers has an ancient history in Greek culture. Excavations in Santorini, Greece, unearthed sets of stone cooking supports used before the 17th century BC. In the supports there are pairs of indentations that were likely used for holding skewers. The line of holes in the base allowed the coals to be supplied with oxygen. Mycenaean Greeks used portable trays as grills. These trays were rectangular ceramic pans that sat underneath skewers of meat. 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). This is also mentioned in the works of Aristophanes, Xenophon, Aristotle, and others. In Classical Greece, a small spit or skewer was known as ὀβελίσκος (obeliskos), and Aristophanes mentions such skewers being used to roast thrushes.
Modern-day souvlaki was described in the mid-19th century by a French traveler in the Boeotia region, but was not widely distributed in Greece until after World War II. Souvlaki skewers served as fast food started to be sold widely in the 1960s, after being introduced by vendors from Boeotia. The first known use of the word souvlaki in English was 1942.
The issue of whether modern-day souvlaki skewers came to Greece via Turkish cuisine, and should be considered a Greek styling of shish kebab, or is a contemporary revival of Greek tradition dating as far back as 17th century BC Minoan civilization, is a topic of sometimes heated debate, at least between Greeks and Turks.
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.
A souvlaki-pita 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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- Doner kebab – Turkish version of Greek gyro
- Gyro (food) – Greek version of Turkish doner kebab
- Kebab – small pieces of meat and vegetables grilled on a skewer
- Satay – Southeast Asian version of skewered meat
- Shashlik – Middle-Eastern version of skewered meat
- Shawarma – Levantine (Arabic) version of doner kebab
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Greeks and Turks also battle over the similar dishes which the first call soublaki (> english souvlaki) and the second şiş kebabı (> English shish kebab), each claiming to be the originators.