Yassas, our beloved Greek food lovers!
As you might well remember, not so long ago we decided to give extensive answers to some of the most ingenious questions we have ever been asked. So the time calls for the oldest and the most controversial of questions: What was grilled first, the souvlaki or the kebab?
Many would think that souvlaki is a type of street food that has originated from the many years of Greece being under Ottoman rule, but this is not true. Archaeological findings and writings clearly prove that souvlaki as we know it today comes from the ancient Greeks. Are you interested to find out how it started?
In the beginning was the word and the Greek word was obeliskos (the diminutive of obelos – “spit”). Obeliskos was even mentioned in the works of Aristophanes, Xenophon, Aristotle and others. A dish of bread stuffed with meat which resembles the way pita souvlaki is served today with pita bread was also attested to by Athenaeums in his “Deipnosophistae.”
Researcher George Katsos says: “According to archaeological finds, the inhabitants of Greece are one of the first people in the world who sliced and roasted several types of meats almost four millennia ago, applying a new cooking method to the traditional boiling process of the Neolithic Age”, can you believe it? Almost four millennia ago! The skewered meat recipe existed as a favourite in ancient Greece during Archaic times, with the earliest references to this practice in the works of Homer. However, excavations held in Akrotiri on Santorini by professor Christos G. Doumas have unearthed stone barbecue holders for skewers (Greek: krateutai) which were used before the 17th century BC and were popular before the disastrous eruption of the island’s volcano.
Even later on, during the Byzantine era, references describe street vendors selling souvlaki wrapped in pita in Constantinople. And as you well know by now, Constantinople used to be Greek land before it became the seat of the Ottoman Empire, so it is safe to state that kebab is derived from the ancient souvlaki.
According to writings found on plaques, in ancient Greece there were festive events focusing on roasted meat dishes, using viands which were usually sliced. Athenaeus recorded that the skewered pieces of meat and other goods were sold in thermopolia, cart-like stands that amazingly featured hot coals, which operated in markets.
Along with the similar meats they served, the carts themselves were like today’s cantinas or street vendors’ stalls (pretty much like ours), essentially selling the fast food of the time, including hot skewered meat, chestnuts, doughs, salted cold cuts and so on. The clay pottery found shows that the cooking utensils were transportable, proving that they were used by street vendors.
To sum it up, Souvlaki is an ancient Greek street food, that has been around the block for more than 4000 years and no nonsense food will stick around for that long. So stay safe, keep calm and eat souvlaki!