The Origins of the Souvlaki in Greek Restaurants, Melbourne

Souvlaki has become synonymous with Greek cuisine and Greek restaurants in Melbourne due to its immense popularity. The name originates from the medieval Greek word ‘Souvla’ which translates to ‘skewer.’ Small pieces of meat (and sometimes vegetables) are seasoned and marinated generously, and then placed onto a skewer for cooking. While originally pork was the most common meat of choice, chicken, beef, and lamb are common in many Greek restaurants in Melbourne. The best souvlaki in Melbourne is either served with the meat still hot on the skewer or served in a pita with other accompanying ingredients.

Gyros vs Souvlaki

While some regions of Greece interchange the term Souvlaki for any meat served in a pita, the distinction between gyros and souvlaki is the cooking and serving method. Gyros is meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie pole and continuously carved away as the outer edges are cooked through. It is always served in pita bread. Meanwhile, souvlaki cooks the meat on the skewer, by rotating it over a spit. However, this meal is also displayed on menus of Greek restaurants in Melbourne as ‘skewers.’

Souvlaki in Ancient Greece

There is evidence of Souvlaki and meat skewer dishes existing for as far back as Ancient Greece. Excavations have found portable stone holding trays with indentations for positioning skewers over an open flame, that date as far back as the 17th century BCE. These artefacts were found in Santorini, Greece. Meanwhile, meat being roasted over spits has been mentioned in ancient Greek literature. This includes the works of Aristotle, Xenophon, and Aristophanes. In the Iliad, Homer describes pieces of meat roasted over spits.

Modern Souvlaki

The history and origins of modern souvlaki, like many other dishes that have existed for a long time, are disputed. Whilst the dish was popular among the Greek population for centuries, the first modern interpretation of Greek Souvlaki at a restaurant is believed to be Aigyptaikon. This restaurant was opened in 1924 in Naika, Athens by Isaac Merraklidis. The restaurant still exists to this day. After WW2, Greek souvlakis became increasingly popular internationally as people migrated from Greece to other countries around the world, and the dish is now a stable takeaway meal globally.

As always, the exact origins of interpretations of dishes can be difficult to trace. Whilst Aigyptaikon may have been the first modern souvlaki style restaurant, different regions across Greece had different interpretations of souvlaki available. The Greek region of Livadia claims to be the original source of souvlaki takeaway shops that sold the meat served in pita bread. 

Australian Style Souvlaki

Whilst Australia had a substantial Greek population prior to WW2, a huge wave of immigration occurred in the 1950s. This was largely when Greek style souvlaki was popularised throughout the world. Australian style souvlaki has some differences from traditional Greek souvlaki. This is largely due to the choice of meat. Lamb was relatively cheap in Australia throughout the later half of the 20th century, meanwhile, it was expensive in Greece at the time of Souvlaki’s emerging popularity around the world. The pork was pushed for consumption as a meat of choice throughout the junta regime in Greece from 1967 to 1974, leading it to become used in Greek style souvlaki. Lamb remains popular souvlaki meat of choice in Australia today. However, the cost of meat has risen in price. The other addition to Australian style souvlaki which is not traditionally seen in Greece is lettuce. This is common to see in Greek restaurants in Melbourne. However, authentic Greek souvlaki contains tomatoes and onion, but lettuce is absent from gyros and souvlaki.

It’s Greek Souvlaki.

At It’s Greek, we want to provide our customers with the best souvlaki in Melbourne. Our skewers and gyros are authentic Greek in style. You can choose Pork, chicken or lamb for your meat filling, however, we do offer additions such as haloumi and biftekki. Our pitas come with your choice of filling, tomato, onion, tzatziki, sauce, and chips. So, if you are looking for authentic souvlaki takeaway or the best souvlaki in Melbourne, look no further than It’s Greek, Springvale.

If you would like some mouth-watering skewers or gyros from It’s Greek, you can place your order here or contact the store via our online enquiry form or phone number: 0395485607.
The It’s Greek Restaurant Melbourne location is Shop 1B/218-220 Springvale Rd, Springvale VIC 3171