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Souvlaki was made famous by the Greeks but Cyprus has its own version, which is probably the most popular “fast food” on the island. And when we say fast food, don’t think unhealthy. Cypriot souvlaki is actually one of the lowest fat foods you can have!
Cypriot souvlaki is a very simple meal and consists of 2-3 skewers of grilled pieces of pork or chicken inside Cypriot pita bread and usually also includes tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley and sometimes onion and cabbage. Cypriots usually squeeze lemon over the souvlaki to add acidity and more taste.
Lean meat is cut into 3-5 cm cubes and then passed on stainless steel skewers before grilled on the traditional Cypriot grill called “foukou”. The use of stainless steel skewers instead of wooden ones ensures the meat is cooked both on the outside and inside, even though you will scarcely find people using wooden ones. The meat is not seasoned in any way, making it relatively dry. This also makes the choice of quality meat critical as the taste cannot be disguised in spices and marinades.
Some people choose to order their souvlaki with a few pieces of sheftalia inside the pita. Sheftalia is minced pork with spices (usually onion, parsley and pepper but sometimes also garlic, halloumi and even cinnamon) that is wrapped in caul fat, the transparent membrane that surrounds the stomach of a pig, formed into elongated balls and grilled on skewers. It is a nice complimentary flavor to the otherwise dry and spice-less souvlakia.
When ordering souvlaki, you can have plain souvlaki, mixed souvlaki (with sheftalia), just sheftalia, or chicken souvlaki and you can have your order plain or “enhanced” (ενισχυμένη) or large in size. The number of pieces of souvlaki and sheftalia vary from restaurant to restaurant and so does the price. Generally, you can expect to find 15-20 pieces of souvlaki in a plain souvlaki pita, 10-15 pieces of souvlaki and 3-4 sheftalia in a mixed pita and 6-8 sheftalia in a sheftalia only pita. The price will range from 4 to 7 Euros.
People usually east souvlaki with a side of fresh Cypriot yogurt, tzatziki and sometimes pickled vegetables (ξυδάτα) such as spicy peppers or celery. At times, you may see people eating french fries with souvlaki, an obvious British addition.
Many Cypriots will have souvlaki at least once a week at home and they will usually have it delivered or pick it up from the nearest souvlaki restaurant. There are literally dozens of souvlaki restaurants within one square kilometer in the densely populated areas of towns as there is plenty of business to go around.
Souvlaki is always the default solution when people can’t decide what to eat or if they don’t have time to cook, as it is always a safe and healthy alternative to anything and can be eaten for lunch or dinner.