Souvlaki in Athens, known there also as kalamaki
TypeFast food
Place of originGreece
Associated national cuisineGreece
Main ingredientsVarious meats

Souvlaki (Greek: σουβλάκι [suˈvlaci]), plural souvlakia, is a popular Greek fast food consisting of small pieces of meat and sometimes vegetables grilled on a skewer. It is usually eaten straight off the skewer while still hot. It can be served with pita bread, fried potatoes, lemon, and sauces, but the souvlaki itself is eaten on its own, with the side dishes eaten subsequently. The meat usually used in Greece and Cyprus is pork, although chicken, beef, and lamb may also be used. In other countries (and for tourists), souvlaki may be made with meats such as lamb, beef, chicken, and sometimes fish.


The word souvlaki is a diminutive of the Medieval Greek souvla (σούβλα meaning "skewer") itself borrowed from Latin subula.[1][2] "Souvlaki" is the common term in Macedonia (Greece) and other regions of northern Greece, while in southern Greece and around Athens it is commonly known[citation needed] as kalamaki (καλαμάκι meaning "small reed").


Pair of firedogs with zoomorphic finials, 17th century BC, Akrotiri.
Pair of firedogs with zoomorphic finials, 17th century BC, Akrotiri.

In Greek culture, the practice of cooking food on spits or skewers historically dates back to the Bronze Age.[3] Excavations in Santorini, Greece, unearthed sets of stone cooking supports used by the natives of the island before the Thera eruption of the 17th century BC; souvlaki was "a popular delicacy in Santorini back in 2000 BC."[4] In the stone cooking supports, there are pairs of indentations that were likely used for holding skewers and the line of holes in the base allowed the coals to be supplied with air.[5]

In Mycenaean Greece, "souvlaki trays" were discovered in Gla, Mycenae, and Pylos.[3] The "souvlaki trays" (or portable grills) used by the Mycenaean Greeks were rectangular ceramic pans that sat underneath skewers of meat.[3] It is not clear whether these trays would have been placed directly over a fire or if the pans would have held hot coals like a portable barbecue pit.[3][6] Spit supports appear to "continue in use into the Early Iron Age at Nichoria."[3] In Greek literature, Homer in the Iliad (1.465) mentions pieces of meat roasted on spits (ὀβελός); this is also mentioned in the works of Aristophanes,[7] Xenophon,[8] Aristotle,[9] and others.[10][11] In Classical Greece, a small spit or skewer was known as ὀβελίσκος (obeliskos),[12] and Aristophanes mentions such skewers being used to roast thrushes.[13]

In the Byzantine Empire, the Greek author of the Prodromic Poems (4.231) mentions "the hot meat shops" of Constantinople providing clients with spit-roasting meat slices similar to souvlaki known as psenasis souglitarea.[14]

Modern-day souvlaki was described by Gustave Flaubert, a French traveler, who observed Greeks "grilling pieces of meat on a bamboo stick" during his visit to the Boeotian countryside in 1850.[15] However, modern-day souvlaki was not widely distributed in Greece until after World War II.[15] Souvlaki skewers served as fast food started to be sold widely in the 1960s, after being introduced by vendors from Boeotia.[15] The first known use of the word souvlaki in English was in 1942.[16]


Souvlaki platters for take-out.
Souvlaki platters for take-out.
Chicken souvlaki pita served in a restaurant in the United States.
Chicken souvlaki pita served in a restaurant in the United States.
Souvlaki and gyros in Athens.
Souvlaki and gyros in Athens.


Kalamaki (καλαμάκι meaning "small reed") is a synonym for souvlaki proper in Athens where the word souvlaki is used colloquially for any kind of pita wraps. Kalamaki can also be accompanied with vegetables such as tomato, peppers and onions and as a sauce with some lemon juice. There are some places in Greece where kalamaki is not connected in any way to souvlaki such as Thessaloniki; in these regions, souvlaki refers to the dish that in Athens is called kalamaki.


Merída (μερίδα) means portion in Greek. While souvlaki is eaten plain on hand as a fast food, it is also served as a full plate, served with fried potatoes, vegetables, sauce, and quartered pita bread. Usually it consists of the ingredients of a souvlaki-pita (see below) but laid out on a plate instead of wrapped together for eating on hand though souvlaki can be combined with different bread. When it comes to meat, lamb is mostly used, but others can be as well; for example, sometimes ox is used.

Souvlaki pita

Pita is a form of partially leavened, flat, round bread with a diameter of approximately 15 centimetres (6 inches), used to wrap souvlaki or gyros. It comes pre-baked and will additionally be grilled on the meat drippings just before serving, unless the customer requests it not to be. In Athens and southern Greece, it is called pita-kalamaki.

A souvlaki-pita consists of souvlaki meat garnished with sliced tomatoes and onions, fried potatoes, tzatziki, and wrapped in a lightly grilled pita. When chicken is used instead of pork meat, tzatziki and onions are replaced with a special yellow mustard sauce and lettuce to be compatible with its taste; various other garnishes and sauces are possible, including shredded lettuce, paprika, fried potatoes, ketchup, and mustard. Sauces like ktipiti, Russian salad or melitzanosalata can also be used as an extra option. Any of these components may not be included, at the request of the customer. Hungry customers may occasionally request a two-pita wrapping (diplopito) and/or a double meat serving (dikalamo).


In Corfu, a special tomato sauce is added to souvlaki, plainly called "red sauce" (κόκκινη σάλτσα).


Main article: Sheftalia

In Cyprus, souvlaki can refer both to the small chunks of meat on a skewer, and to the dish. It is made with a large pita that has a pocket-style opening. Into this is placed the meat (traditionally lamb or pork, more recently sheftalia or chicken), which in Cypriot souvlaki is cut into slightly larger chunks. Tomatoes, cucumbers and shredded white cabbage are the usual salad additions. Onion, parsley, and pickled green chili peppers are popular accompaniments, as are yogurt and tzatziki. Cut lemons are always included with souvlaki, as they are with all grilled meats in Cyprus. Lettuce is not traditional and is seldom used in souvlaki outside of tourist resorts.

See also



  1. ^ Georgios Babiniotis, Λεξικό της Νεας Ελληνικής Γλώσσας, s.v.; Andriotis et al., Λεξικό της Κοινής Νεοελληνικής, s.v. σουβλάκι, s.v. σούβλα
  2. ^ Sophocles 2004, p. 1000.
  3. ^ a b c d e Hruby 2017, "Souvlaki trays", pp. 23–25.
  4. ^ Eptakili, Tassoula (9 October 2015). "Prehistoric Gastronomy: Dietary habits of a long-lost era". Greece Is. Retrieved 21 February 2016.
  5. ^ Utilitarian terracotta object, Museum of Cycladic Culture, Akrotiri excavation artifacts, Santorini, Cyclades, Hellas (Greece).
  6. ^ Gannon, Megan (8 January 2014). "Ancient Greeks Used Portable Grills at Their Picnics". Live Science. Retrieved 5 February 2020.
  7. ^ Aristophanes. Acharnians 1007, Clouds 178, Wasps 354, Birds 388, 672.
  8. ^ Xenophon. Hellenica, HG3.3.7.
  9. ^ Aristotle. Politics, 1324b19.
  10. ^ Homer. Iliad, 1.465.
  11. ^ Wright 1999, p. 333.
  12. ^ Liddell & Scott 1940: ὀβελίσκος, diminutive of ὀβελός (obelos).
  13. ^ Aristophanes. Acharnians, 1007.
  14. ^ Dalby 2010, pp. 70, 225.
  15. ^ a b c Matalas & Yannakoulia 2000, p. 6 including footnote 8.
  16. ^ "Souvlaki". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 5 February 2020.