What is a Gyro? The origins of the special Greek delicacy
Gyros is a delicacy that many adore. It is consumed by many people especially in Greece and neighboring Turkey (as a doner) on a weekly basis. Together with souvlaki they are our most popular and well known dishes around the world. The history of Gyros is not always clear and a lot of times its origins are contensted from many countries. Lets try and get an understanding of what Gyros is and how did it become so popular.
One thing to know if your are visiting Greece, is that we have a lot of similarities in our gastronomy with our Turkish neighbours which is natural.
The origin of Gyros and Doner
The origin of the dish is covered by “clouds” and this is because few sources can help us. Historical accounts support the fact that the gyros came from the older oltu kebap. Oltu is a small town near Erzurum in Turkey. In its original form, the meat was cooked horizontally and the pieces of meat were cut thicker. However, later that changed and the first mentions of its current form came from Ionia, Asia Minor, and specifically from the city of Bursa. Ionia of Asia Minor was famous for its rich gastronomy. Something that Greek refugees brought to Greece after 1922, enriching the local cuisine.
It is probable that it appeared in the 19th century in Bursa, a city with a large Greek population. Many say that the original form of the round was doner kebab, which is very similar to today, except that Muslims who did not eat pork, ate it with lamb or beef. Thus the Greeks had the “privilege” of pork. And here, possibly, is the explanation why we still find it in this form in the grills of our country and the main difference between Gyros and Doner historically.
Gyros was a favourite delicacy for the inhabitants of this city, whether they were Turks, Greeks, Armenians or Jews. It should be noted, of course, that Gyros had spread to other cities of the Ottoman Empire, which is why it is still sold in several parts of the Arab world with variations from place to place.
When did Gyro come to Athens?
In 1922, with the Asia Minor Catastrophe, it came to Greece fatally. The Greek refugees along with their culture and their music brought as well as their gastronomy.
This is what happened with Gyros, which began to spread slowly in many parts of Greece over the decases.
The second half of the 20th century was when the biggest waves of immigration to America, Australia and Germany took place, mainly during the ’50s and’ 70s. Some, therefore, carried to the other side of the world the recipe of this delicious dish, as a result of which they got to know Gyros.
In Greece Gyros is also loved by tourists. Especially in the grill shops in the center of Athens, Thessaloniki, but also on the islands, they queue up to taste it.
Even if the word starts with a G it is not pronounced with that letter exactly. If you’re ordering a gyro for lunch, you pronounce it “yee-roh”.
How Gyros is made
It takes 1-2 hours to make Gyros, while previously the meats have been processed with various spices such as salt, garlic, onion. The secret of Gyros is the fresh meat, although there are many cases of frozen meat. However, the good taverns with well-known Gyros are that of fresh and clean meat without any preservatives.
Cutting the round is very important. It is a “ritual” for celebrities. The cutter with the long knife should be experienced and know-how and with what thickness he will cut the round.
Meat is cut into approximately round, thin, flat slices, which are then stacked on a spit and seasoned. The pieces of meat, in the shape of an inverted cone, are placed on a tall vertical rotisserie, which turns slowly in front of a source of heat or broiler. As the cone cooks, lower parts are basted with the juices running off the upper parts. The outside of the meat is sliced vertically in thin, crisp shavings when done.
In Greece it is customarily served in an lightly grilled piece of pita bread, rolled up with sliced tomatoes, chopped onions, lettuce, and french fries, topped with tzatziki sauce. Through the years we had additional sauces added as a variation.
Wherever there are Greeks, there’s gyro, and the food is inarguably one of the most popular among tourists. The sale of this savory street wrap has, of course, progressed into the world of American chains (some owned by Greeks) as well as onto the internet. In Greece, currently, there are dozens of online sites where one can order a gyro for home delivery. In the U.S. and elsewhere, gyro remains a steadfast symbol of Greek casual dining and street fare.
Obviously, there are variations and the Turks can call it Doner and the Arabs Shawarma which are equally delicious. The question is not who made it first but how can we enjoy it!