Food & Drink Magazine

In Search of the World’s Finest Kebab

By Periscope @periscopepost

In search of the world’s finest kebab

Chicken gyros. Photo credit: Gabrielle Jackson

Who was the genius who thought to pop a few chips in the top of a kebab?

That’s what I’m in Greece tying to find out. I’ve not done it. I’ve had my fair share of strange looks, mind, but nobody to answer the question: WHO WAS IT? Who thought of the idea to put the chips in the top of a pita filled with lovely gyros or souvlaki meat, some tomato and tzatziki? It’s only in Greece they do this. It’s also only in Greece they use tzatziki as the sauce, and I think the rest of the world would do well to pause posturing on the debt crisis and spend a few moments pondering this delight.

But, back to the chips and my unrelenting will to find out who started the fashion. The truth is, it’s like asking who decided to have chips with fish. I am like the tourist who goes around England saying, “Why do you have chips with fish? Why does it have to be ‘fish and chips’? It’s such a great idea! How clever you English people are!” In other words, the idiot. Or not. Apparently Socrates asked lots of seemingly dumb questions too. Maybe he was the one who thought of it! Or the secret may just lie in the fact that the Greeks seem to love a fried potato. They like to have potato with every meal. Like the English and the Irish. And a few men I know.

We Australians don’t seem to share this potato obsession, which perhaps is what drove me to ask the question in the first place. It’s important to me, you see, as I’m on a quest. A kebab quest. And it was a chicken gyros in Kamari beach, circa 2005, that drove me to it. The little chicken pita with a few chips poking out the top was a revelation to me and my six fellow travellers.

The gyros I speak of has left an indelible mark on my consciousness and is considered one of the great holiday experiences of all those who were there. Life changed for us that day. Something inside us was moved – we saw the humble kebab in a new light and never again would we think of kebabs the way we did before. There is no going back.

Let explain to you what happened. It all started when my hungover friend missed breakfast and had to scour the beach for food at 11.00. She came back with what looked like a mini chicken kebab from a joint called the Souvlaki Stop. I was surprised; this friend was an avid dieter, but she said there was nothing else available. I did think to myself, however, that her little parcel of food looked quite good. I asked for a bite. I did not expect to be so bowled over. The succulence was indescribable. The soft warm chicken and the fresh coolness of the tzatziki danced in my mouth like those two people out of Dirty Dancing.

The soft warm chicken and the fresh coolness of the tzatziki danced in my mouth like those two people out of Dirty Dancing.

I couldn’t even wait to put on my sundress. I marched frantically towards the Souvlaki Stop wearing just my bikini and the saliva that was dripping from my mouth, down my cheeks and onto my bare abdomen. I was desperate for my own heart-stopping gyros.

I was loathe to offer another friend, Bridget, a bite when I got back to my lounger. Luckily, I had eaten the chips in the top before getting back – at least she couldn’t steal those. By the look on Bridget’s face as she bit into my gyros, she experienced a similar sensation to me. She, at least, had the decency to put on some clothes before marching up to the man who would become our friend and demanding the same treatment.

“It was delicious. It was perfect because it was small, but so tasty, and it had the chips on top. It was probably the best thing I had ever eaten on holiday,” recalls Bridget.

Dave witnessed all this and worried what the fuss was about. He scoffed at our incredible lack of grace in the face of the gyros. The following day, Dave ate three. “It was a two course meal in one – you had the chips to start and then you got to bite into the chicken as the main meal”, says Dave. “I skipped breakfast so I could fit in two for lunch. Then I skipped foursies so I’d have room for a third.”

Bridget pipes up: “They were small enough to eat a few each day without feeling like a real piggy.”

Dave enthusiastically nods his head in agreement. “I found that in the morning when the meat was freshest, at about ten thirty waiting for a ferry to Perissa, they were perfect. I remember running across that hot black sand to get to the ferry with the gyros in my hand and the gyros stayed hot – just like the black sand on the beach. ‘Moreish’ is the word I would use to describe them”, he says.

Kebabs became my obsession. I’ve eaten kebabs in every corner of Europe.

In the intervening years, I’ve eaten kebabs in every corner of Europe. Kebabs became my obsession. All my dining experiences, from the Fat Duck to Song Qué, are compared to that that first bite of a chicken gyros in Santorini. Can the Turks or Persians (who both claim to have invented the kebab) compare? That’s what I intend to find out.

I’ve often dreamed of going back to the Souvlaki Stop and asking that man if he understood what a mark he’d made on the lives of six travellers, especially on little old me. As it turns out, I did go back. He’d left and the new people grunted at me when I asked for an interview and then hid in their shop till I left. And I waited a while. Regardless, the quest must go on! Watch this space for reviews, highlights and other revelations as I go on my worldwide quest to find the ultimate kebab.

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