Gyros, shawarma, doner and tacos al pastor all over the world are names used to describe a big mass of meat that spins over open fire on a vertical rotisserie. Depending on which part of the world you’re from it could be pork, beef, lamb, chicken or turkey thighs. Where did the first GYRO originate? According to some nutritional anthropologists the Gyro originated at a Greek Orthodox Church in New York in the early seventies. There’s a good article of David Segal, published 2009 in the New York Times, The Gyro’s History Unfolds.
In Greece, the gyro is made from pork belly and/or pork shoulder meat and then sliced thin and marinated in the Greek marinade of choice: olive oil, garlic, oregano salt pepper and lemon juice (or vinegar). In countries where they don’t eat pork (for religious purposes) they use beef and/or lamb instead.
In Mexico we have Lebanese migrants bringing their shawarma where it becomes “tacos Al Pastor” or “tacos Arabes”.
The bread used is always some type of round flatbread (pita, tortilla, naan, roti etc.) with fillings changing not only from country to country but even within a country from region to region. Why a spit you ask? Becoouz as the meat turns around an open fire the tzous that is extracted from the meat sticks to the outer surface basting the meat and caramelizing it. Try that in your overpriced house oven.
In northern Greece and Thessaloniki the gyro is stuffed with tomatoes, onions, french fries, ketchup and mustard and is best enjoyed at 4:00 am after a Antonis Remos concert and from a truck vendor outside the bouzoukia (Mama Tereza).
In Athens the gyro is made with tomatoes onions and tzatziki and is best enjoyed at 4:00 am after a Notis Sfakianakis concert.
Did I say tzatziki? The spread of choice that’s made mostly from goat or sheep’s milk GREEK YOGURT! Question: What was life like in America before the introduction of Greek yogurt? Did this country exist? What did it’s inhabitants eat?
What’s interesting about Tzatziki and GREEK yogurt is that Tzatziki takes it’s name from the Turkish “Cacik” and Greek yogurt (similar to Baklava) has… shall we say a sketchy history but one thing is for sure: We Greeks made these food items famous so THERE to all you non-Greek neighbors HA!
A young Turkish lady that frequents my store said to me recently: “Greeks call Lemon Lemoni, Karpouz Karpouzi, Portokal Portokali. All I have to do is add the I’s and I’m fluent in Greek!”
Here in America several companies produce a mystery meat that’s ground up and shaped into a cone and served mostly in Greek restaurants and diners from New York to Los Angeles. Ever check the ingredients list on a box of commercially produced ground gyro meat? Those of you who have Ph Ds in chemistry please ”kanete eksplein” to the rest of us what these ingredients are. Here’s an example of what I mean.
Celebrity chef Michael Psilakis in his cookbook How to roast a Lamb writes: “If you own a Greek restaurant you got to make your own gyro”. I couldn’t agree with him more and for all of you who Greeks who own restaurants and work the gyro line at Church festivals:
When you are ready to assemble the gyro PLEASE, have the bubbly side of the pita bread face you (smooth side on counter) because all those little bubbles hold the tzatziki in place and prevent it from dripping all over my shirt.
Thx. Costas X.