Gyros, like coffee, is a staple while traveling in Greece.
The sandwich - what else would you call it? - is cheap, filling and you can get it almost anywhere.
No matter if you’re on Athens’ Syntagma square or in some village on a small island, there’s a good chance you can grab some kind of gyros within five minutes walk.
In this guide, I’m going to help you make sense of the menu when going for gyros, explain to you what you can order, as well as making sure you’re able to do it in Greek.
Let’s get started so you can order your next gyros in Greek.
What is gyros (γύρος)? 🥙
First, though, let’s talk a little about what gyros is.
Chances are, if you’ve been in a high street practically anywhere you’ve seen the large hanging roll of mystery meat in the shop window.
Shaving off bits of meat from this vertical rotisserie and putting it on some bread with some salad or sauce is a staple in a number of countries, including Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, Cyprus and Greece.
In Greek it’s called gyros (γύρος and note that the gamma is pronounced like “y”), while in Turkish it’s known as döner kebab; Arabs will often refer to it as shawarma.
In the case of Greek and Turkish, the term used refers to the turning that the meat does; _döner _ and γύρος both have the word for “turn” or “spin” in it.
There is some discussion as to where gyros comes from and who invented it, but we won’t get into that here; it’s a common street food across the region and we’ll leave it at that.
What’s in a gyros sandwich?
Depending on where you are, a gyros sandwich is composed differently.
As this article is about ordering gyros in a γυράδικο (gyros shop) or ψητοπωλείο (steak house or fast food shop) we’ll be focusing on the Greek-speaking world.
In Greece and Cyprus, the meat used is usually either pork or chicken (χοιρινό or κοτόπουλο), though you’ll occasionally run across veal and, even more rarely, lamb.
The meat is shaved off the rotisserie either with a large knife or some kind of electric cutter; I’ve even seen small circular saws being used!
The result is small strips of meat, usually about as thick as a matchstick, sometimes even thinner.
The meat is put on bread, usually a small circular flatbread called pita (πίτα).
You probably know pita bread as the Arab style, which you can open up and then put food into the pocket, but Greek pita bread is completely flat. Food is placed on top and the bread is then folded.
Before the meat is added, the pita is usually covered in a thin layer of yoghurt or tzatziki (τζατζίκι), which is yoghurt with cucumber, garlic and some herbs. It’s delicious!
With the bread prepared, the meat is placed on top and then some salad is added.
What’s added depends on the γυράδικο, as well as the region you’re in.
Generally speaking, it can include a number of things, like cucumber (αγγούρι), diced tomatoes (ντομάτες), onions (κρεμμύδια), as well as different cabbages or coleslaws (usually referred to as λάχανο).
These are always laid out in front of the shop so you can easily examine them.
If you’re not sure what anything is, you can always ask “what is that?” (“τι είναι αυτό;”).
Once the meat and salad are added, the whole sandwich is folded up and wrapped in paper, with the top end open.
To top it off, chips — french fries — are added.
These are called πατάτες in Greek, which just means “potatoes,” but in the setting of the γυράδικο people will know what you mean.
This is a very Greek twist, sometimes they’re put in with the salad, sometimes placed on top.
As far as I know, they don’t usually do this anywhere else, but I’d love to hear if I’m wrong in the comments.
EDITOR NOTE: I’ve seen it in Turkey as well.
|πατάτες||Chips (lit: potatoes)|
Reading the Greek menu
Now that we know some basics, let’s take a look at a menu.
Here’s a page from a popular γυράδικο in Limassol, Cyprus, called ο Γίγαντας.
Most gyros menus will start with some ορεκτικα or starters, which are usually some dips with bread.
Generally you can choose from τζατζίκι and σκορδαλιά (garlic sauce), but since this is a Cypriot eatery there’s also ταχίνι (sesame paste) and τυροκαυτερή (hot cheese, feta mashed with peppers).
These are usually also the sauces you can put on your pita.
|τυροκαυτερή||Hot cheese (spicy feta mix)|
The rest of the page will be all sandwiches, called either σάντουιτς or πίτες.
There are generally two types of sandwich: a regular Greek pita (Ελληνική πίτα, though it’s usually only called that in Cyprus) and a Cypriot pita (Κυπριακή πίτα).
A Greek pita is the flat kind we talked about before, while a Cyprus pita is like the Levantine variety, so a large bread that you can form into a pocket.
A Cypriot pita is served more or less the same way as a Greek pita, only with more of everything. Though rare in mainland Greece until a few years ago, now you can order them all over the country.
Where a Greek pita is a snack, a Cypriot pita is a meal, so make sure you’re hungry before ordering a Cyprus pita.
Gyros and other toppings
The second pick is what you want to have on your sandwich. Your top option is gyros, the famed shaved meat we’ve talked about.
However, there are other options, first and foremost of which is (σουβλάκι) instead, which are small skewers of meat, grilled over coals.
Some people call them καλαμάκι (“straws”).
They’re served exactly the same way as gyros, just instead of rolls of meat you get small cubes.
They’re a little juicier than gyros, but they have less flavor, I find, but your experience may vary.
Other than these two Greek staples, many grill and gyros places will also offer different kinds of hamburger (μπιφτέκι) or even several varieties of sausage.
Vegetarians can often count on some kind of cheese being on the menu, either in the form of a feta sandwich or even, like in this case, χαλούμι, a hard, Cypriot cheese that doesn’t melt and is simply delicious with a bit of salad.
|γύρος||Strips of meat|
Sandwich or plate?
Besides sandwiches, you can order almost everything on the sandwich menu as a μερίδα or “portion.”
This is the same gyros or skewer, but instead of served on a sandwich with salad, it’s served on a plate with salad, chips and bread.
The meat is usually also a lot more, so in amount of food it’s a step up from a Cypriot pita. A good μερίδα will fill you up for the day.
You also have a lot more options when looking at plates like this than just γύρος and σουβλάκι. For example, there’s μπριζόλα (pork chop) and φιλέτο κοτόπουλο (chicken breast) on offer, as well.
Ordering in a gyros shop / restaurant
Now that we know a bit more about gyros and the other food on offer, let’s see how you order one.
It’s a relatively simple process, usually, especially if you’re in a smaller γυράδικο.
We’ll really focus on sandwiches in these examples, but if you want a plate all you usually need to do is replace the word πίτα with μερίδα and you should be fine.
Also, if you’re not too sure on what to say when you enter a shop, check out our guide to saying hello and goodbye in Greek.
Γύρος and Σουβλάκι
Before we move on, let’s go over one highly confusing bit of nomenclature.
The words γύρος and σουβλάκι can mean very different things in Greece.
For example, in Athens and southern Greece γύρος is often referred to as σουβλάκι, so when they want to go for a gyros will say something along the lines of πάμε σουβλάκι.
Though for the examples below we’ll be saying γύρος, if you’re going to Athens, you need to say σουβλάκι, instead!
Ordering a gyros
In our first example, we’ll just assume you want the most basic thing on the menu, a pork gyros sandwich.
The easiest way to order that is to ask: “μια πίτα με γύρο χοιρινό απ’όλα, παρακαλώ.”
μια πίτα με γύρο χοιρινό απ’όλα, παρακαλώ.
You went for the simplest sandwich, a Greek pita, with pork gyros and by saying απ’όλα you made clear you want it with everything.
“Everything” in this case means all the salad on offer, plus tzatziki and chips.
Think of it as the basic sandwich. It may be a little different when going from place to place, but the idea is always the same.
However, this long sentence can come across as a little stilted (and hard to remember) so you can also order “πίτα με γύρο απ’όλα, παρακαλώ” and then be asked the kind of meat you want (usually by asking “χοιρινό ή κοτόπουλο;”), though beware that some places will just assume you meant pork and go with that!
Changing things up
However, if you want to order a sandwich without something — maybe the tomatoes in the salad tray look a little dodgy or you just don’t like cucumbers — you need to change things up a bit.
For example, let’s order a chicken skewer on a Cypriot pita, but without tomatoes.
In this case, you’d say:
μια κυπριακή πίτα με σουβλάκι κοτόπουλο χωρίς ντομάτες, παρακαλώ.
In this case, you get the same as an everything sandwich, just without tomatoes.
If you want to be a bit more picky, though, and be very clear about what you do or don’t want, you need to say so right from the outset.
For example, if I don’t want tzatziki but tahini and only want some cabbage, then I’d say something like:
πιτα με γύρο χοιρινό, παρακαλώ, μόνο με ταχίνι και λάχανο.
Though I might get some funny looks, I should get my sandwich as I ordered it.
All you need to do then is pass the time till your food is ready. If you ordered a gyros, then it shouldn’t take too long.
Καλή όρεξη! 🥙