Yassas, our beloved Greek food lovers!
We have finally reopened the imaginary doors of our nothing less than physical stalls (currently at Tabard st) and we couldn't be more excited to be chatting with y'all! We hope that you are far from being fed up with our lessons on all things Greek.
Today we'll dig into the linguistic area and, fingers crossed, we won't bite more than we can possibly chew.
The term souvlaki [soo-VLAH-kee] is a diminutive of the Medieval Greek word souvla (meaning "skewer"), so what you are asking for is a "little skewer". Now comes the tricky part, because souvlaki is the common term in most regions of northern Greece, while in southern Greece and around Athens it is commonly known as Kalamaki (meaning "small reed"). However, if you'll order a Kalamaki in Thessaloniki, let's say, you'll be served nothing but a straw.
Since you are a loyal and eager Greek food lover, you know that at its core souvlaki is consisting of small pieces of meat (sometimes vegetables and/or cheese) grilled on a skewer. It is usually eaten straight off the skewer while still hot or served with pita bread, fried potatoes, crunchy salads, and sauces. 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. For instance, in the UK, chicken souvlaki is the best seller, whilst in Australia, every self-respected souvlaki shop will serve lamb skewers as a house speciality.
So far we've emphasised the Greek origins of the word, but the said term is far from being a novelty in English. The first known use of the word souvlaki in English is dated 1942. For comparison, ramen and salsa were introduced 2 decades later, in 1962, while poutine and tiramisu - in 1982. Who would guess, right?
So we've set straight the origins of the word, first use in English, but what about the variations of the aforementioned idiom? Hold tight, you food-centred readers, as here comes the knowledge...
The UK foodies are already accustomed to a souvlaki (meat on the skewer) and yeero or gyros (shavings of meat), but if you plan on travelling to Greece be prepared to have all types of names being spread before you. The variations of souvlaki are endless.
Souvlaki-pita consists of souvlaki meat (or, rarely, veggies) garnished with salads, sauced with tzatziki, and wrapped in a lightly grilled pita. Sometimes chicken breast meat replaces the pork, tzatziki and onions are substituted with a special sauce and lettuce to be compatible with the flavours. 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).
Souvlaki-merida is at its core a larger deconstructed souvlaki wrap, served with fried potatoes, vegetables, sauce, and quartered pita bread.
There is the Cypriot version, which is sheftalia (pork mince with spices cooked in lace fat), garnished with thin-sliced cabbage and pickled cucumber, and served in a pocketed pita.
Another rare version is made with frygadeli, prepared with pieces of veal liver which are seasoned and wrapped in lamb suet. The liver is then skewered and grilled over charcoal. Frygadeli is traditionally associated with the island of Lefkada.
In conclusion, spelling and pronouncing it is the easy part, finding the perfect souvlaki for you is trickier. That's why we urge you to arm yourself with lots of tissues and pop by to get some call-it-what-you-want-yummy-goodie-wrap!