The ultimate Greek street food is called ‘gyros.’ The word ‘gyros,’ as you can probably guess, comes from the Greek word that means ‘around.’ A gyros is a sandwich, with either pita or bread, with meat (usually) stuck on a rotating metal spear. The rotation is how they got their name. The most common type of gyros is pork; outside of major cities, it is often the only kind available. The second most common type is chicken; most gyros shops have these. It is very rare to see other types; however you may come across lamb or even beef. My city is one of the only places in Greece where you can get beef – although technically this is the Turkish döner rather than Greek gyros. You can also order gyros without meat; these are popular during Lent.
Gyros is such a popular food in Greece that it makes up an entire industry – and despite the economic crisis, it is reported to be doing very well. Gyros are sold in shops that go by various names: ovelistirio (‘obelisk store’ because the rotating meat spear resembles an obelisk), gyradiko (‘gyros shop’), souvlatzidiko (‘souvlaki shop,’ a reference to gyros’ cousin souvlaki, which is square chunks of meat cooked on a grill), sandwichadiko (‘sandwich shop’), and fastfoodadiko (you can figure that one out yourself). Even the smallest Greek town will have at least one of these. They tend to open up around 5pm, and they deliver until late into the night. They are very popular among college students, bachelors, and tourists.
The ritual of ordering a gyros is as follows: first, you indicate that you are ordering the gyros wrapped up in a pita (or in bread), as opposed to the much more expensive plated version. Then you specify your meat choice, and then what extras you want. The standard extras are fried potatoes, tomato, and onion. In northern Greece, mustard and ketchup are also standard. In southern Greece, tzatziki is very common. You can also ask for a different sauce; there are usually six or seven other options. Most people order their gyros ‘with everything.’
You don’t have to be in Greece to eat gyros, though. You can make it at home and it’s pretty close. I sure as heck don’t have a rotating obelisk of meat in my house; I just bought some boneless pork and cut it into pieces. Because the meat in a gyros is thinly sliced pork, this is pretty close. (Turkish döner uses ground beef but that’s not how it’s done in Greece.)
When I made gyros at home, I made everything except the ketchup from scratch. You can decide what you want to make from scratch based on what you have available and how much work you want to do.
The first step is to start the dough for the pita bread. I used my regular pillowy pita bread recipe for this. Follow that recipe through the first rise and then come back here.
Once the pita bread dough is rising in its bowl, it’s time to prepare the pork. I bought boneless pork and cut it into small pieces.
Make the marinade: cider vinegar, oregano, thyme, cumin, Spanish smoked paprika, and ground pepper. (I used salt also but you don’t have to.)
Combine it all well in a bowl and add the pork. Cover and refrigerate.
Next, make the mustard. You can use any kind of mustard you like, but I recommend a ‘standard’ type, not Dijon or honey mustard. To make mustard, mix two parts mustard powder with one part vinegar and one part water. Whisk it together well, cover, and refrigerate also. (If you’re a mustard weirdo like me, you can put all kinds of spices in it. But this is totally unnecessary.) When you’re ready to use it, whisk it again; you may want to whisk in a little additional water to return it to the proper consistency. It keeps well due to the vinegar so you can make more than you’re going to use for this recipe if you like. Or, you know, just open a jar of mustard.
Now, make the tzatziki. (Note: this is tzatziki for gyros, not real tzatziki. Real tzatziki has a lot of cucumber in it. We’ll make that some other time.) Stir together the yogurt, dill, and garlic, with a pinch of salt. Set aside. Preheat the oven.
Cut four pieces of wax paper to about 10″ wide. Set aside. Slice the tomatoes and onions very thinly and set aside.
Wash and slice the potatoes into french fry shape. (Note: I made more than the recipe calls for in the above photo so that we could have extra on the side.) In a large bowl, toss the sliced potatoes with the olive oil and salt. Arrange on a baking sheet and bake, periodically moving them around, until they are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, about 50 minutes. Put them aside for now. Turn the oven to its maximum temperature, with an overturned baking sheet on the middle rack. (Note #2: the traditional way to make potatoes for gyros is to fry them. You can certainly do that if you prefer.)
When the pita dough has risen, press it down and divide into four, rather than eight, pieces. Continue to follow the pita instructions through baking them. They should bake in about 3 minutes.
In a pan sprayed with non-stick spray, stir-fry the marinated pork pieces. This will take a while; you want them to start to brown. Taste a little piece: it shouldn’t taste like vinegar at all. When the pork reaches a golden brown / pink color, remove it from the heat. While these are cooking, put the potatoes back in the oven to keep them warm.
To assemble the gyros, place one pita on one end of a piece of wax paper. Put a few tablespoons of tzatziki on the pita. Layer on the tomato and onion slices. Then add the pork and potatoes. Add a little bit of mustard and ketchup.
Curl the pita tightly around itself and wrap tightly with the wax paper.
One of these is very filling! This recipe makes enough for four people.
1 recipe of Pillowy Pita Bread
300g boneless pork, raw
500g potatoes, raw
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp Spanish smoked paprika
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp salt, divided
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup Greek strained yogurt, any fat content
1 tsp dried dill or 1 tbsp fresh dill
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 tbsp mustard powder
1 tbsp red or white wine vinegar
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 medium tomato, sliced very thin
1 small onion, sliced very thin
1. Prepare the Pillowy Pita Bread according to the recipe, but making 4 large pitas instead of 8 regular ones.
2. Make the marinade: in a medium bowl, mix together the cider vinegar, oregano, thyme, cumin, smoked paprika, pepper, and 1 tsp salt. Add the pork; cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Preheat the oven to 180 C / 350 F.
3. Make the mustard: in a small bowl, whisk the mustard powder with the wine vinegar and 1 tbsp water. Optional: whisk in pinches of other flavorings, for example whole mustard seeds, horseradish powder, cumin, toasted onion powder, dark brown sugar, etc. Cover and refrigerate.
4. Make the tzatziki: in a small bowl, stir together the yogurt, dill, and garlic with a pinch of salt. Set aside.
5. Slice the potatoes into french fry shape. In a large bowl, toss with the olive oil and the remaining salt. Arrange on a baking sheet and bake until crispy, about 45-50 minutes, periodically moving them around to prevent sticking and to bake on all sides. Set aside, and turn oven to maximum heat with a baking sheet overturned on the middle rack.
6. Bake pitas according to pita recipe. Cut four pieces of wax paper 10″ wide, leaving them their original length (about 22″). Replace the potatoes in the oven (turned off) to keep them warm.
7. Spray a nonstick pan with olive oil. Stirfry the marinated pork until golden brown. Transfer to a bowl.
8. Assemble the gyros: Place a pita on one end of a piece of wax paper. Dollop a few tbsp of tzatziki in the center. Arrange a few slices of tomato and onion on top. Add pork and potatoes, then a small amount of mustard and ketchup. Curl the pita around itself (it will just barely close), and wrap tightly with the wax paper. Continue with the other three.
per gyros, i.e., 1/4 of total recipe (assumes you use lowfat yogurt)
14g fat (3g saturated, 11g unsaturated)
7g dietary fiber
50mg cholesterol (17% DV)
1924mg sodium (80% DV) ** This is a high sodium food!
1127mg potassium (32% DV)
Contains a significant amount (+10% DV) of the following:
vitamin A, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B-6, phosphorus, selenium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, iron, riboflavin, folic acid, vitamin B-12, manganese, and copper.