In 2019 when I traveled for the first time to Greece, I remembered to ask people around where I could find some cheap but still delicious food to eat. I was sent to a Gyros Shop. These places were familiar to me since living in Germany means having Turkish Shops and their Kebabs as “national street food”. When I saw it at first it looked very similar to what is called Donner, however, now that I live in Greece and have had the chance to eat a couple of them and see with detail, not only the pita or bread used, but meat, sauces, and fillings vary.
The similarities between one and another are for many people small, but for locals are not less. They cause rivals between Turkish people and Greeks who reclaim to be the owners or inventors of this dish. Not to mention Shawarma a very similar food in the Middle East. I have been puzzled about the history behind this staple in Greek street food which has also colonized gourmet restaurants in and abroad the country, therefore, I decided to do some research, and here it goes.
According to many historical accounts, Gyros which come from the Greek word gheeezzo meaning “to spin”, were first made in 1922 after the return of many Greeks and Armenians from Turkey. However other more ancient records place its foundation in the post battles celebrations during Alexander the Great´s time, where soldiers used their swords to skewer the meat and cooked it over a fire. Nowadays grills and electrical cutters easier the process, but the logic behind closely resembles times back. The meat should be cooked slowly while rotating every side.
The Greek Gyro is perfectly wrapped in a pita and can be filled with different ingredients such as onions, tomatoes, and fries. The Tzatziki a creamy yogurt sauce with cucumber and garlic is essential. This makes a big difference between the Gyro and Kebabs. Besides while in Turkey is strictly prohibited due to religious reasons to eat pork, in Greece if you wish to have a full taste of a Gyro this will definitely be served with pork. By emphasizing this, is much easier to understand that is not about whether Turkish or Greeks own the invention, on the contrary, is about how food as people are closely linked to cultures and identities and adapt, convert, enrich, modify and create new ones.
The reputation and importance given by Greeks to this food can be seen in the commemoration on 1st September of the National Gyro Day. Good news: no matter where you are, even outside the country, Gyros Shops can be found everywhere in Europe and even abroad, such as in the USA and Australia where is one of the most eaten meals-to-go and the Greek diaspora -Greek living abroad- had settled down and brought the cuisine there.
Thus, to be clear, food travels so as people do and gets adapted according to culture, tastes, preferences, and languages. No matter whether Turkish or Greeks invented this meal, what I am sure about it is that Gyros are a must-eat dish for anyone visiting this country or wanting to have a taste of Greek cuisine.