There you are, sitting in a charming little Greek tavern in the middle of Monastiraki, ready to order a delicious Greek sandwich that you’ve been salivating over for days. Suddenly, the menu arrives and with it, an endless list of dishes: souvlaki, gyros, kebab and… you’re lost. What is the difference between all these dishes? No need to panic! It’s actually very simple.
Before I visited Greece for the first time, I thought these names were referring to one and only dish, similar to the Turkish kebab. But I was so wrong! In reality, each dish has its specificities: different tastes, different shapes, different occasions! So here are the main differences between souvlaki, gyros, and kebab in Greece.
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Originally, a “souvlaki” designates a skewer, made of wood or metal, which by extension also designates a meat skewer. In Greece, the most popular are pork and chicken skewers, and more rarely, lamb skewers.
If you get meat skewers (which I believe are commonly referred to as “kebabs” in English, which makes it all the more confusing 😂) to take away in Athens, they will be served in a paper bag with one or two slices of bread and, more rarely, french fries (you often have to ask for it). In Greece, you can find souvlakia stands in most markets, it’s a kind of traditional street food.
With the exception of the northern region of Greece (around Thessaloniki), a souvlaki also designates the famous sandwich that you can get as a takeaway, and which contains a pork or chicken skewer, tomatoes, onions, sauce (depending on the meat) and french fries, wrapped in delicious pita bread. Instead of ordering a “bread with a skewer” (“pita me souvlaki”), in Athens you simply order a “souvlaki”!
By default, if you order a pork souvlaki, it will be served with tzatziki, but if you order a chicken souvlaki, it will be a yoghurt/mustard sauce (also very good). Feel free to change the sauce (or any other ingredient in your souvlaki) when you order!
At the restaurant, you can also order an “open” souvlaki: in this case, you will be served two or three meat skewers accompanied by pita bread, french fries and salad on a plate. This main course is called a “merida” on the menus (“μερίδα”).
Want to learn how to order a souvlaki in Greek? Download my Greek Phrases Guide!
What is a gyros?
Moving on from the souvlakia, gyros is probably the most popular Greek dish abroad and is very easy to spot when in Greece: it’s that delicious grilled meat that you see turning and roasting slowly through restaurant windows… accompanied by a divine smell! Like souvlaki, gyros is usually made with pork or chicken and sometimes lamb.
How does it work? To prepare “gyros” meat (which literally means “circle” in Greek and refers to the action of turning the meat!), pieces of marinated meat are piled on a long vertical spit and roasted for several hours. As soon as it is properly roasted, the top layer of meat is cut with a long knife, and the rest is left to roast. It’s a real technique!
Gyros is most often eaten in pita bread with tomatoes, onions, tzatziki and french fries. Like souvlakia, gyros can also be served as a portion on a plate if you order a merida in a restaurant.
What is a kebab?
Finally, kebab (written “kebap” in Greek) should not be confused with gyros and its Turkish counterpart (doner kebab)! Kebab in Greece is spicy minced meat (pork, chicken, beef or lamb, sometimes mixed) on a skewer, which can be eaten like a souvlaki: either in pita bread, or ordered separately on a plate, and most often served with yoghurt. This is one of the Greek specialities that you must try during your trip!
To recap: the difference between souvlaki, gyros and kebab
If you still don’t understand the difference between souvlaki, gyros and kebab after reading the above paragraphs, remember this: all three can be served in pita bread or as a portion on a plate in a restaurant. Souvlakia are meat skewers, gyros are thin pieces of roasted meat and kebabs are spicy minced meat skewers.
Souvlaki vs gyros vs kebab: which tastes better?
All three are excellent! I love the juiciness of souvlakia, how roasted gyros is, and the spicy taste of kebab. You can’t compare!
I hope you enjoyed this article, writing it certainly made my mouth water! Enjoy your time in Greece 😋
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