Written by Andrew Bostock
Giros are fairly well known in certain parts of the US and Australia, particularly where there are large Greek communities, but less so in the UK, where the kebab shop business is dominated by the Turks. I could just tell you that giros are simply the finest fast food in the world, and leave it at that, but perhaps a bit of explanation is needed.
Giros, in literal terms, simply means ‘round’, or ‘to turn’. The first letter of the word is the tricky gamma, so that it is pronounced somewhere in between yiros and giros, mostly closer to the former. It refers to the skewer of layered meat that, nowadays, turns slowly upright in front of an electric grill. This will remind UK readers of the Turkish doner kebab, but is nowhere near the processed sausages of suspect meat that these can often be in fast-food joints back home. As the meat cooks it is shaved off, and can just be served in a portion on a plate.
Most often, however, it is eaten in the sublime form of the giros pita. To understand this you must first banish any notion of pita bread being a flat oval with a handy little pocket in the middle. What we’re talking about here is a thick disc of bread that is generally grilled with a goodly amount of olive oil brushed on. Onto this is spread tzatziki, and then a pile of the meat. Other toppings are to taste, but if undirected the giros chef will add them all. They are usually lined in front of him in trays (and it’s seemingly always a him), so just point and gesticulate. Tomato pieces and red onion are the norm. Chips used to be regarded as the devil’s work, but these days it is an almost mandatory pita filling at most grill houses. Tabasco is rarely available, but is a noble addition.
This whole thing is then rolled into a cigar shape of about 5cm in diameter, usually just too big to fit into your mouth without embarrassing spillage, and further rolled in grease-proof paper with one end left open to munch on. One giros is normally enough to snack on, two is a fairly hearty meal, three or more is for students on marathon box set binges.
You can also get souvlaki pita, which is the same but with the meat coming from mini pork skewers on the grill. Kotopolo pita, with chicken bits grilled on the skewer, is also increasingly available. You could also order a pita with no meat at all, although be prepared for odd looks if you attempt this. Chips are advisable, in this case, to bulk it out.
Giros stands are common, often open windows connected to tavernas, in the larger towns and cities, but rare in the countryside. To find them look out for schoolkids at around 18.00 with greasy packages, and follow the paper trail. Whatever you do, do not underestimate the power of the giros: rich Greeks abroad have been known to get their favourite giros stand to bulk freeze their product and ship it to them in London or New York.
For more on the cuisine of the Peloponnese, check out our comprehensive guide: