Gyros vs. Souvlaki - all you need to know

Our Greek American and Greek teams recently went head to head on the topic of souvlaki (and gyro) in our 7th Avenue restaurant. Greeks being Greek, we like to debate. A lot. And, whether the topic is Constantinople or Gyros, it's usually...complicated. 🙂 

The debate: is gyros, in fact, a souvlaki!? So let's have it out: Gyro vs. Souvlaki and the lowdown on our favorite Greek street food.

When in Athens...

Greeks, like most Mediterranean people, have a loyal connection to their family, traditions, language and their food! Gyros and souvlaki are probably the best known Greek words (and Greek foods) in America. Yet even there we have some controversy. 

Many people in the US, but even in some parts of Greece and Cyprus, think that souvlaki strictly refers to meat cooked and served on small skewers like kebab. We want to set the record straight: Souvlaki vs. Gyro? There’s no competition! And it's not because we love them both (we do), but because gyros is actually a form of souvlaki.  

You see, in Athens and surrounding region, souvlaki is a term that covers any meat cooked on skewers and served in a pita, including gyros. For meat served directly on a skewer we use the term “kalamaki”.

No worries though - there is no need to change what you prefer to call it. If you are in Greece or Cyprus and order a pita souvlaki  chances are they'll now what you mean. 

Let's look at some more interesting facts on gyros and (the other) souvlaki 🙂 

What's the main difference between gyro and souvlaki?

While both gyro and souvlaki or kalamaki are crafted from the same delectable meats, the preparation method and cuts differ.

Once served in a pita they become just pita or souvlaki for many Greeks. In America (and most places outside of Athens) we distinguish them as Gyro and Souvlaki respectively, to avoid confusion.

gyro and fries at greek from greece


“Gyro”, refers to how the meat is cooked because of its literal meaning “to turn” or “revolution”.

Gyros is made from meat that is compacted and cooked on a vertical rotisserie, resulting in juicy and tender, thinly cut slices of meat.

Lamb gyro was the variant originally introduced to and embraced by Americans to this day. Meanwhile, back in Greece pork and chicken gyros are more popular nowadays.

 Modern gyros are cooked on an electric rotisserie that turns/spins around constantly, so the meat is always evenly cooked with a light crispy crust and super-juicy on the inside. Typically served in Greek pita

greek souvlaki or kalamaki at greek from greece new york


▫ The word “souvlaki”, pronounced as “soo-vla-kee”, has roots in the Greek word “souvla”, meaning skewer, therefore souvlaki means small skewer, which is a reference to how the meat is cooked.

 Souvlaki is a popular Greek street food that features skewered bite-sized chunks of meat cooked over high heat, on a horizontal grill or classic rotisserie. 

▫ Souvlaki is primarily made of pork or chicken meat, seasoned and/or marinated. 

▫ It can be served straight off the grill, either on a stick, (“kalamaki”) or inside a Greek pita. 

Which is more popular: Gyros or Souvlaki?

Everyone adores Greek cuisine, and while both dishes are highly regarded, gyros takes the spotlight. 

In Greece alone, an astounding 110,000 tons of gyro are produced each year, with a daily consumption of roughly 450 tons. In the US and around the globe, gyros is a winner. Notably, Germany and the UK emerge as the top importers of Greek-produced gyros, adding to their worldwide popularity.

Gyros - big in America too!

Gyros, along with other mouthwatering Greek street food delights like souvlaki, spinach pie, and Greek sausage, burst onto the American scene in the 1970s. The gyro stole the show, becoming the hottest selling item right from the start, as mentioned in this captivating article by NYT!

NYT 1971 article on Gyros

How DO you pronounce gyro?

Luckily Luke Bryan and Jimmy Fallon helped resolve the mystery! Check out their sketch and song featured on The Tonight Show - "I Don't Know How to Pronounce Gyro

So yeah - it’s yee-roh not jy-roh. To avoid more confusion, in the US you’ll often find it helpfully spelled “yeero” , “pita yeero” or referred to simply as …pita! 

How do I order gyro or souvlaki in Greece?

When ordering Gyro in Greece (and in Cyprus) we either ask for gyro or pita gyro, meat type preferred, and list toppings you like inside. 

With souvlaki you can order pita souvlaki or “kalamaki” (ka-la-ma-key), if you prefer having it served on skewers.

What goes in a souvlaki (and gyro) 

All souvlaki  pairs especially well with tzatziki, tomato, onion and French fries. You can have fries inside the pita or as a side. Or both!

Choose your fav add-ons or go full Greek and ask for “ap’ola” - meaning with everything in! 😎 

tzatziki and pita at greek from greeceFreshly prepared tzatziki at Greek From Greece Manhattan

Which is healthier, souvlaki or gyro?

Both souvlaki and gyro can be nutritious choices, depending on how they are prepared and served. 

Both are made with relatively lean meat cuts and grilled, making them a great lean protein source. In Greece they are typically served in pita bread with a generous serving of salad vegetables such as tomato, cucumber, onion, shredded cabbage and more depending on the region and restaurant. The veggies add nutritional value, as does a dash of fresh lemon on top. 

The different spreads and dressings add a kick but some may tend to add extra calories to the serving. Best spreads for souvlaki and gyro include  tzatziki, tachini, mustard aioli, feta spreads like tyrokafteri, htipiti and more. We are crazy about dips. Get an easy tzatziki recipe to try at home and learn more about some of these must-try Greek dips or spreads in our article here

If you’re looking for a healthier, low-carb way to enjoy this delicious Greek food you can just eat the delicious meat, outside a pita, with a light dressing and a side of fresh Greek salad. We think that the perfect dressing for souvlaki or even gyros is just a dash of olive oil & lemon (“ladolemono”).

Also check out: Everything you need to know about Greek salad for its history, origins and more.

Similar dishes around the world

Gyros, with their mouthwatering blend of flavors and succulent meat, are reminiscent of the famous döner kebabs of Turkey and the tantalizing shawarma of the Middle East. 

On the other hand, souvlaki and kebab share a delicious similarity - both are meat dishes grilled on skewers. These savory delights will transport your taste buds on a culinary journey, leaving you yearning for more.

We love them all!

How about you? Are team gyro or team souvlaki?

If you are in Midtown Manhattan and looking for some good Greek eats, stop by our 7th avenue store just steps away from Macy’s and Moxy Hotel.  Our classic Greek pita gyro is a must-try for anyone serious about gyros (or the gyro vs. souvlaki debate!) 

Greek From Greece Bowls, Wraps and Pita are all made with top quality imported staple ingredients and best locally sourced fresh produce. We proudly serve Greek foodies and Mediterranean food lovers in Midtown Manhattan some authentic Mediterranean flavors that are tasty, nutritious and at great prices. Stop by or order online for pick-up or delivery.

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