(Dear reader, I do not have access to my laptop at the moment. Consequently I am unable to include photos, of the kind you know and tolerate, in my posts. I’ll be sure to add some in when I can.)
Arriving late into Athens airport, and with a few hours to wait before my connecting flight to Crete, I decided that now was the time to try my first Greek souvlaki.
In Greece, the Greek language is written, naturally, in Greek, and I reckon the Greek alphabet looks very cool. Thankfully for non-Greek speakers, many words, such as the names of places on maps and roadsigns, appear in the Latin alphabet too.
However, one thing I found out pretty quickly is that there are a number of different English spellings for each Greek word or name. For example, the capital city of Crete is Ηράκλειο (told you it looks cool), for which the English equivalent is Hieraklion, or Iraklio. Or Iraklion. Road signs are not consistently spelt, so if you are heading for Hania, you may find out you actually arrive in Chania or even Xania. This can get a little confusing to say the least. However I found that if I just sounded the name out phonetically, I could usually work out when two (or more) names were in fact the same place, despite following the signs to one location and ending up in another.
So what has all that got to do with my first Greek souvlaki? Well, what is a souvlaki in Australia is a ‘gyros’ in Greece, or sometimes it is giros, or even yiros. Having grown up in Melbourne I was very familiar with, and partial to, the souvlaki, which was generally grilled meat (often lamb), lettuce, onion, tomato and garlic sauce all wrapped up in a deliciously soft and tasty flat bread. Come to think of it, I think a souvlaki was called a yiros in South Australia… Geez this is starting to get confusing. Anyway, I wondered what my first Greek gyros/giros/yiros would be like.
The first surprise was my gyros was served in a box. Chicken was the meat on offer, piled into a cardboard takeaway box along with tomato, lettuce and onion. A non-descript sauce was added, followed by a generous portion of chips, and finally some flat bread placed on top. It was a bit different to what I had expected, and to be honest wasn’t that great. Still, it was at the airport, where mediocore overpriced food is always the plats de jour.
After arriving in Hieraklion/Iraklio/Ieraklion, I thought I would have another shot at a gyros/giros/yiros. Fronting up at the shop, I was lucky to strike an English speaking gyros chef. He explained that the meat was pork, and that his gyros were the best in town. I promptly ordered one, and watched intently as my lunch was constructed. After shaving the meat from the vertical grill, the gyros technician added lettuce, onion, tomato and sauce to a flat bread which he rolld into a cone shape. A serve of chips were then added. He handed me my gyros cone, I handed him my euros, and off I went to a nearby bench to try it out.
I found in Tunisia that a serve of chips sprinkled with cumin was added to just about every meal, even pizza. I was starting to think that the Greeks had also taken to adding chips to a gyros as a standard ingredient. It’s a bit weird, and I have to say doesn’t really add much to a gyros. As I took my first few bites, a particularly hirsute and portly street dog waddled over, scattering the hopeful pigeons who had gathered near my feet. He plonked himelf down on his daggy arse and looked at me expectently. I told him he had no chance, as I was hungry and it was a late lunch. But I have to say I changed my mind pretty quickly. The gyros was, well, ordinary. It was actually quite bland, with none of the ingredients having much flavour at all. Half way through I abandoned it to the street dog. Interestingly, he picked at the gyros very delicately, eating only select parts. I’m not sure whether he was unimpressed too, or perhaps, being a bit of a tubster, he could afford to be choosey as everyone feeds him.
I was aware of a pattern forming with my judgement of famous dishes prepared in their native land. My pizza experience in Italy had been undwrwhelming (see The Best Pizza In Italy Is In…), my Chicken Kiev was ok (see Chicken Kiev), and now my first two gyros experiences in Greece had been disappointing.
Still, it’s early days in Greece and I’m definitely not giving up on the gyos just yet. Or the giros. Or the yiros.
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