Gyros, essentially vertically roasted meat, tomatoes, onions and tzatziki sauce, are very popular worldwide as a lunch item. They’re tasty and all food groups are represented providing the perfect midday meal.
What is a Gyro?
The word in itself comes from the Greek word for “spin”, and this is what it does. Meat, commonly pork, veal or lamb, is stacked in a cone and broiled vertically. Chicken is another common ingredient. The layers of fat keep the rest of the meat tender while the heat also makes it crispy. The meat is sliced very thinly from the cone and put inside a pita with tomatoes, onions and tzatziki, a yogurt, garlic and cucumber sauce.
Another important part of the gyro is the spices. A mixture of paprika, oregano, salt, pepper and garlic is mixed in with the meat. Everyone has their own recipe. Some contain parsley, allspice or cumin in addition to the other spices.
This is a traditional gyro. Nowadays you can find all sorts of fillings. In Greece it’s popular to put fried potatoes in them as well, and you can even find vegetarian versions with falafel in place of meat. It’s really just a sandwich then. Pickled vegetables, lettuce and mayonnaise are also common substitutes.
In Greece the pita bread itself can be found in plain, Cypriot or Arabic. Plain is the most common, and thickest of the three breaks. Cypriot is thinner and splits to make a pocket, while Arabic pita is crispier and flatter.
Contrary to popular belief, gyros-pronounced “yee-ros” -did not originate in Greece, although the name was itself is Greek.
Gyros actually come from Turkey. Known as a doner kebab in Turkey, they were invented in the 19th century and bought over to Greece. They’re also similar to shawarma which originated in the Middle East.
The first gyro in the United States was made in Chicago in the mid 1960s. There is a quite a bit of discussion as to who actually made the first gyro in Chicago, but they were in fact invented there by a John Garlic, as told in a New York Times article from July 14, 2009. Regardless of how they made it to the United States, as they were not the only ones to catch on, the gyro remains an ever-popular fast food and lunch item.
Make Your Own Tzatziki
While you can put all kinds of sauces on gyro, Greek tzatziki is still the best. This creamy sauce has lots of garlic for flavor and the cucumber helps cool off spices from other components of the dish.
Tzatziki is simple and easy to make. It tastes great as a spread on sandwiches, a dip for veggies or even as dressing for salad.
To make your own:
Mix together 1, 16 ounce container of Greek yogurt (regular yogurt is too runny), half of a finely chopped cucumber, and two cloves of finely chopped garlic. Add salt and white pepper to taste. Some prefer to add chopped fresh dill and a little squeeze of fresh lemon for added flavor.
Gyros are one of the healthier fast food options out there, as long as you skip the fried potatoes, and they are a big step up from a two dollar burger. They’re packed full of flavor and when cooked the real way, over a vertical rotisserie, there’s nothing better.