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What meat is authentic Greek?




Yassas, our beloved Greek food lovers!

We believe by now you digested the history lesson on the origins of souvlaki (you can find it here if you missed it) and you're ready for the next eye-opening (and mouthwatering) post and we'll stuff your mind with more souvlaki stuff 🌯.


We'll slaughter the intrigue from the very beginning and we'll reveal that pork is the traditional meat for most regions in Greece. However, Ancient Greeks consumed much less meat than is consumed today. In the country, hunting and trapping allowed for the consumption of pheasant, wild hares, boar, and deer, while wealthier Greeks could raise goats, pigs, lamb, sheep, and donkeys. In the cities, meat was expensive except for pork. In Aristophanes' day, a piglet cost three drachmas, which was three days' wages for a public servant, so no wonder pork became so popular.


Suckling Pig: A man about to slaughter a small pig prior to roasting it, perhaps as part of a sacrifice and ceremonial feast; terracotta figurine, discovered at Tanagra, Boeotia; 6th century BC (Louvre, Paris). © Bridgeman Images
Suckling Pig: A man about to slaughter a small pig prior to roasting it, perhaps as part of a sacrifice and ceremonial feast; terracotta figurine, discovered at Tanagra, Boeotia; 6th century BC (Louvre, Paris). © Bridgeman Images

As you well know by now, at the prehistoric site of Akrotiri, racks for grilling meat on skewers and a firebox topped with a flat griddle indicate souvlaki and flat-bread (pita) were already popular street food dishes some 3,700 years ago. Furthermore, archaeological digging proved that suids (domesticated pigs 🐖) were living in Cyprus at least 11,400 years ago. Excavations show that in about 6000 BCE, practically from its inception, ancient Greek civilization relied on sheep as primary livestock for cheese and wool production, and was even said to name individual animals. On another hand, genetic studies have pointed the domesticated chicken spread to Greece only by the 5th century BCE.


Homer describes meat roasted on spits (a forerunner of food items such as kontosouvli and/or gyros), and he also mentions the ancestor of the loukaniko: “…And as when a man before a great blazing fire turns swiftly this way and that a paunch [i.e. sausage; anc. Greek: gaster] full of [pork] fat and blood… eager to have it roasted quickly, so [sleepless] Odysseus tossed from side to side…


On this particular occasion, we won't emphasise the importance of fish and seafood in Greek cuisine, just because of its irrelevance to the dish amongst the dishes, the one and only - souvlaki. We, the Greeks, love our meat and the most common traditional dishes will include pork, lamb, beef, goat, chicken, veal and rabbit not necessarily in that order. And speaking of souvlaki, the consensus is that pork is the classic iteration in souvlaki’s homeland (the two most common cuts used in the souvlaki recipes are tenderloin or neck and shoulder). Often, but not always, you will find chicken and lamb versions.


By Epidromos Painter - Jastrow (2007), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1557680
Sacrifice: principal source of meat for city dwellers — here a boar; tondo of an Attic kylix by the Epidromos Painter, c. 510–500 BC, Louvre.

Curious to know what protein was voted "A souvlaki's soulmate"? You can see the poll here.


PS: We've been asked why most of the time we have a man in charge of grilling and we want to specify this is a homage to the ancient tradition: the men of ancient Greece were typically in control when roasting the meats on spits or over coals; the women were responsible for boiling foods and baking them in the oven. Just kiddin', it is purely coincidentally


So now you have the answer to why we dare to call our souvlaki traditional. And regardless of what you prefer having stuffed in your pita bread, we welcome you at our humble stalls across London.

Kali orexi!



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