18 Jun2008

souvlaki2

After a morning spent climbing the Acropolis, then walking to and through the Athens Central Market, we were famished. And being in the hometown of the gyro (pronounced yee-ro), it was definitely the first thing we wanted to eat. So just after leaving the fruit and vegetable section of the Athens Central Market, we spied a very local looking kind of eatery, and decided to plunge in and eat our first gyros. First of all, the nomenclature is a bit confusing. If you eat at a restaurant, and you ask for a souvlaki, you will often end up with an overpriced plate of sliced meat or kebab meat with greens and tatziki and get charged way above a more typically expected pita gyro or souvlaki. Do not fall prey to that tourist trick. Make sure to ask for a gyro pita and you will get the meat and fixings inside a soft pita rolled into a conical shape and it will run you just 1-3 Euro depending on location of the vendor. Gyro pitas are typically sold from small stalls, and there are hundreds of them all over Athens…

souvlaki4

We also found that souvlaki can refer to what we otherwise know as shish kebab, chunks of meat skewered and grilled. The gyro might include the sliced meat from those vertical grilling contraptions and most often comes in lamb, but also in beef and super delicious in pork. Some places add french fries, others do don’t, most add tatziki, onions, tomatoes, flat leaf parsley and a dash of paprika or salt or other spices. The restaurant near the market was definitely not a typical tourist place. About 8 other tables were taken and not a single one of them had tourists. All of the patrons appeared to work in or around the market, and if I were to understand Greek based on the tone and looks of amusement, the whole place was a bit surprised to see three “Japanese” tourists stepping into the place. The owner/waiter didn’t speak much English, but he communicated enough so we knew exactly what to order. And he was so genuinely nice. We ended up with two different gyro pitas (lamb and pork) and a souvlaki pita with chunks of beef. The wraps were SUPERB. Absolutely delicious. It was our first real taste of Greece (not counting breakfast), and it was totally what we were hoping for. The pita was thick yet not overly doughy and it was thrown onto the grill for a few seconds on each side, yielding a slightly crunchy yet pliable wrap. The meat was grilled perfectly, and tasted like pork or lamb or beef. The tatziki was cool and refreshing, redolent with garlic, and a binder for the meat, tomatoes, onions and fries. The finishing dash of paprika added that little extra perk in flavor. Wonderful.

souvlaki3

In addition to the three wraps, we also ordered a tomato salad (differentiated from a Greek Salad as it had no feta cheese) which arrived very cold and with a single fork full, you would have heard an audible groan if you were seated next to us. So simple, yet so utterly superb. The ingredients were the key… vine ripe and flavorful (but probably greenhouse) tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, slivers of onion, sweet green bell peppers and a ton of incredibly good greek olive oil. There was also a touch of red wine vinegar and lots of oregano. It’s hard to imagine how this salad would impress anyone so much, but the combination of excellent ingredients, highly chilled (normally chilling affects the texture of tomatoes), and the fantastic olive oil, put really big smiles on all of our faces. In ten minutes flat, we wolfed down the salad and three gyro pitas and drank 3 softdrinks/bottled water. Total damage? Roughly Euro 12 or USD18. Bravo! Eating in Greece and Turkey wasn’t necessarily going to break the bank! We would go on to have at least 3 lunches eating this way, and several meriendas for The Kid and Mrs. MM as well.

souvlaki1

So remember this MM piece of advice. When arriving in a new city, try and head to the main market as early in your stay as possible. Eat at a (often hole in the wall) restaurant there if possible. It should set your benchmark for food quality and prices for the rest of your visit. We did this in Barcelona, Florence, Rome, Melbourne, Athens, Turkey and it definitely worked for us! I never figured out the name of the restaurant at the market, but here is a picture of their awning… I also spied several restaurants inside the market, some of them that serve the famous tripe stew in the wee hours of the morning, but I never managed to make it back to the market at 4a.m. or so… maybe next time. I had 3-4 gyro pitas during this recent trip. Mrs. MM and The Kid ate at least TWICE as many!

 

COMMENTS:

  1. GayeN says:

    Reading this post made me want for a gyro. =D

    Jun 18, 2008 | 3:49 pm

     
  2. Fabian says:

    gyros! and felafels. good eats.

    good signs for holes in the wall: no one speaks english, no english menu, mostly locals.

    Jun 18, 2008 | 3:57 pm

     
  3. thelma says:

    there is a greek restaurant 25 minutes away from where we live.
    they also serve delicious gyros, salad and very rich desserts.
    what kind of greek desserts did you try while you were in greece, market man?

    Jun 18, 2008 | 3:59 pm

     
  4. corrrine_p says:

    wow, amazing pita bread so unlike the one I had last night. That shot makes my mouth water! Greek food sure is so healthy!

    Jun 18, 2008 | 8:30 pm

     
  5. zena says:

    Gosh! I love gyros and that salad sound simple yet simply divine. I truly believe that the taste and texture of tomatoes can increase the quality of a salad. Makes me want to go to Cyma which is as close to Greece as I can be right now.

    Jun 18, 2008 | 8:43 pm

     
  6. noes says:

    I love gyros. I used to ordered it from a Greek restaurant in CA. I’ve never seen Greek restaurant in MD. All they have is Indian, Chinese, Korean, Mexican, Burmese, indonesian (but its gone), Aztecan and Japanese.

    Jun 18, 2008 | 9:31 pm

     
  7. wil-b cariaga says:

    I never knew it was pronounced as “yeero”. . . by the looks of it. . . mmmmm it makes me wanna have one or maybe three, it looks so delicious. . . and the salad seems so refreshing. . . actually i like simple salads, i have this recipe of an easy tomato salad. . . just layer the the tomato slices, and in each layer sprinkle with sugar, a bit of salt, freshly cracked pepper, chopped onion and drizzle with white wine vinegar then chill, this is very simple but so refreshing specially when its chilled very well. . .

    Jun 18, 2008 | 10:26 pm

     
  8. Amee says:

    Great advice!

    That’s what I do too when I’m in a new place. Go where the locals eat. You can never go wrong with that.

    The food looks delish. I’ll have to add Greece to my wish list for the future.

    Jun 18, 2008 | 11:24 pm

     
  9. ykmd says:

    Ahhh, gyros!!! This is my 10 year old son’s favorite “fast food” at the mall, along with a side of Greek salad! He always tries to convince my daughter that it’s way better than her usual choice — a turkey sandwich from Subway :) The stall we frequent is run by a Greek family and even the music they listen to sounds so exotic….
    It’s fun to “go places” with you as usual, MM.

    Jun 19, 2008 | 12:15 am

     
  10. quiapo says:

    I remember the souvlaki at a Greek Cypriot hole in the wall, called “Anemo’s” in London in the 60s, near the post office tower. The meat was always charcoal grilled moist lamb served with a salad inside a pita. It seemed to double as a Cypriot social club, as in the other room there was a billiard table which was always used. The place introduced us to the savoury use of yoghurt, for in Cyprus they use yoghurt as a relish for the main course, rather like some of us use bananas with our rice. My wife and I came back in 1998, but alas, it was gone, but we were redirected to another restaurant nearby which was apparently its direct descendent. It was a proper restaurant – with tablecloth and waiter service. The food was still excellent but it was not the same.

    Jun 19, 2008 | 4:19 am

     
  11. sister says:

    Did you get a chance to check out Persian cucumbers? They are small and slender with tender skins and very crunchy. It’s probably what was in your salad. Now available in NYC at Fairway, Agata and Valentina and later on at Union Square from one vendor only for about $3. a lb. Far superior to any other cukes!

    Jun 19, 2008 | 4:51 am

     
  12. Roberto Vicencio says:

    One of the endearing qualities of the Pinoy traveler is our courage to try the local cuisine right where the locals have it. That is why when we gather and talk with other foreigners to compare notes, we seem to have visited a different country than they have. Our carinderia and palengke training allow us to try different food without much prejudice. THat is why many Americans miss out on such wonderful local food as MM has tried because of their quesiness. Never been to Greece but the first gyros I tried were in Great Lakes, Illinois right outside the gate of the Naval Training Center there. With the right amount of tomatoes and onions plus the cucumber sauce, that food was my staple.

    Jun 19, 2008 | 6:12 am

     
  13. enteng says:

    ohhhhhhhhhh that made me hungry!!!

    Jun 19, 2008 | 7:35 am

     
  14. kasseopeia says:

    Goodness, MM! I made the mistake of reading your blog BEFORE breakfast again! That tomato salad really made my mouth water. I can imagine it tastes way better than my own (tomatoes, sibuyas tagalog, local bell pepper, good olive oil and red wine vinegar with salt and pepper) that I plunk onto some slices of French bread.

    Cyma and Cafe Med are probably the only places I know here in Manila where I can get these incredibly divine gyros. Is there any other place you’d recommend?

    Eating at a restaurant in the marketplace? Yes, definitely. My favorite palabok is made by the (only) lady (left) in the 5 Ladies carinderia at the basement of the Divisoria Mall, right next to baskets of dried fish.

    Another gut-wrenching (coz I’m hungrier now than when I first arrived at the office!) post from you, MM! Thanks very much for sharing!

    I wonder if Cebu Pacific flies to Greece with those zero fare flights…

    Jun 19, 2008 | 8:35 am

     
  15. shalimar says:

    i always order mine APO OLA meaning of everything onions tomato tzatziki….
    think I know this street where the picture taken

    Jun 19, 2008 | 8:50 am

     
  16. shalimar says:

    am dreaming of my neighbourhood souvlaki we have been buying our gyro from this place for 24 years and its still owned by the same family….

    Jun 19, 2008 | 8:52 am

     
  17. AleXena says:

    Good morning MarketMan!=)

    I never thought that I would have my saliva glands working by just looking at your blog. The day has come though when I opened up your site and I saw the picture of that delicious gyro.

    I even learned how to pronounce it properly. Now I know that what I had here in Manila is similar enough. And its true, we Filipinos have a thing for trying the local eateries without thinking twice=P

    Jun 19, 2008 | 8:53 am

     
  18. joonie says:

    I miss souvlaki. Can’t find any good ones in Manila. I end up making my own.

    Jun 19, 2008 | 9:31 am

     
  19. katring says:

    Hi! What place in manila serves the best gyro? My benchmark is the one sold in the Cuenca Bazaar in Alabang. Is there a yummier one?

    Jun 19, 2008 | 10:46 am

     
  20. Gilda says:

    Oh YUM!! I think food always tastes so much better when I’m on vacation. Maybe because it’s a welcome change from the usual fare I’m used to having when I’m at home.

    I love trying all kinds of ethnic foods. Greek is a favorite but so are Indian, TexMex and Thai.

    Jun 19, 2008 | 10:50 am

     
  21. joey says:

    You are definitely making me miss Greece much too much! The gyros are phenomenal…we used to get our’s at a similar hole in the wall place near where we lived, a quick lunch after a morning meeting, rushing back to our place. The most delicious and also the cheapest food I’ve had…it’s so easy to go on-the-cheap in Greece! Our souvlaki guy also had a bunch of other different meats in his roaster/oven (which was really like a small room)…he has this rolled and stuffed roast pork that was amazing!

    Definitely look for small cheapy places with no tourists and fast turnover of customers — my strategy too :)

    Maybe you can develop a recipe for a kick-a** gyro??? :)

    Jun 19, 2008 | 11:41 am

     
  22. Homebuddy says:

    Love your posts MM, as usual. Food and travel really go together just like love and marriage, you can’t have one without the other.

    Jun 19, 2008 | 2:45 pm

     
  23. History of Greek Food says:

    What a wonderful description of Athens! I find most interesting to see familiar places through a visitor’ eyes.
    Greek word gyros or gyro means ‘round’ and is a kind of meat roasted on a vertical rotisserie. By extension, gyros may refer to the sandwich of pita wrapped around it. The traditional filling for a pita with gyro are tomatoes, onions, tzatziki or strained yogurt and optionally paprika. The fried potatoes have been added rather recently. Sometimes the name’souvlaki’ is applied to that sandwich as well. (souvlaki with gyro).
    However, since the word souvlaki, a diminutive of souvla, means skewer, the souvlaki is consisted of small pieces of meat threaded on a small wooden skewer. This skewer is also known as kalamaki (a diminutive of kalami = reed), so the word kalamaki is a synonym for souvlaki, proper in Athens and Crete.
    If you ask for a kalamaki you’ll get a souvlaki with a wooden skewer and a piece of bread. If you ask for a souvlaki with pita, you’ll get a souvlaki meat without the skewer in pita bread with tomatoes, yogourt and onions, like gyros with pita. Of course you can pick your ingredients for your pita souvlaki or gyros.
    The meat for souvlaki and gyros is traditioanally pork; in modern times chicken is used as well.
    Sometimes beef is used for gyros while lamb is almost uncommon. If you are a vegetarian you may ask for a patatopita (=pita with potatoes), a pita without the meat but with the yogourt, tomatoes, onions and french fries.
    In restaurants, not souvlaki shops, the souvlaki is large and threaded on a metal skewer. You can also order swordfish, prawn or vegetable souvlaki.

    Enjoy your staying in Greece,
    Best regards.

    Jun 19, 2008 | 4:17 pm

     
  24. Didi says:

    Ooh!! I love Greek food! Yummy yummy yummy!!

    I wish there were authentic ones here…

    Salivating now…

    Jun 19, 2008 | 5:39 pm

     
  25. kate says:

    wow, so so so YUMMY! thanks for posting those great photos :) the pita looks so fluffy and soft too.

    Jun 19, 2008 | 9:39 pm

     
  26. navyGOLF says:

    Too bad, the pictures are just making me so hungry aware that I should be fasting given my exec check-up 8 hrs from now, ouch! I guess they are more commonly known here in Manila as shwarma. The best ones I’ve tasted so far are in Sala st. Malate Manila, The Original Shwarma Center. There’s two in Paranque inside Betterliving subd, Little Tehran, and in BF along president’s ave, near the entrance in front of EastWest Bank, sorry fogot the name. They also serve really good beef biryani rice. Mr. Kebab in QC is fairly ok as well as Behrous(not sure of the spelling) in Metrowalk, Ortigas.

    Jun 20, 2008 | 3:11 am

     
 

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