Greek Style Gyros – A recipe, and a travel story.

Before we get to this amazing recipe for some of the best street food out there, we wanted to tell you how we discovered that the simple, yet noble gyro (pronounced YEE-roh) saved us on one of the most brutal travel days of our lives.

Gyros

Back in 2003, we embarked on a 3 month long wedding trip that would take us from Amsterdam to Istanbul and back again. Along the way, we encountered some amazing street food – in fact, we highly recommend that you try some of the many options for hot, freshly made street bites that you’ll find on your own travels. Street food tells you a lot about how the locals like to eat!

Fast forwarding to Greece, possibly our favourite country to visit in Europe. We had already been in the country for about a week, and had come through the northeast from Turkey to a town called Alexandroupolis. We were going to make our way down to Crete via Athens – catching a ferry to Crete is easy enough from Piraeus, the major port area at the ancient city’s southern coast. The train from Alexandroupolis to Athens was leaving at 2am, and was not going to roll in to Athens until 4pm the next day. Not wanting to take any chances wrestling for a comfortable seat for our 14 hour journey, we booked a sleeper berth at the station the day before.

Since we had to check out of our hotel at 10am on the day our train was to leave, that meant we would have to carry our bags around all day, and keep ourselves awake until our 2am departure time. This seemed like no big problem – we played cards by the ocean, sat in a few little cafes and enjoyed some Greek coffee and Nutella-filled pastries. All was well for our long day of waiting.

At 1:30am, we were informed that our train was actually leaving from a different station, and that our 2am departure was for the bus that would take us there. No problem, we thought. As our little green bus rolled down the road for about 30 minutes towards the outskirts of town, we were starting to get sleepy. But again, no worries. We had a sleeper bunk waiting for us, and we knew we would get a decent night’s rest on our journey, waking up to the rolling hills of central Greece when the sun rose.

Yes. That was the plan.

If you’ve ever taken a train in Greece, you probably know what I’m about to tell you.

Upon arriving at the departure station, there was a crowd of at least 300 people waiting to get on the train. We weren’t so much in the station, but rather we were waiting in a dark field beside the ancient looking train while the staff seemed to ensure everything was in order (?). As soon as those doors opened, it was every man, woman, and child for his or herself. All 300 of us clamoured as fast as we could o to the train – tickets and passes seemed to be a non-issue here. Amidst all the pushing and shoving, we located the sleeper cars and found what we thought was our assigned berth. Minutes later, a uniformed gentleman appeared to check our tickets – the train was beginning to roll out of the station, and we were looking forward to getting into our bunks and bedding down for the night, so we were glad to see him.





He took one look at our tickets and informed us as best he could in simple Greek that we were in the wrong car, and that we needed to proceed to the third-class seats immediately. So much for booking ahead of time and paying extra for a good night’s sleep.

As we, in our tired and confused state, made our way through the crowds, the train picked up speed and headed off to it’s destination. Had the train not been moving so quickly, we may have opted to hop off. The seats were not only all full, but it was barely standing room only on our grossly overcrowded and oversold train. Of course, things like this happen, and having travelled through many less than organized countries before, we shrugged it off and decided that our fate was set – we were going to have to stand for our 14 hour journey, awake and uncomfortable, on a train where there wasn’t even enough room to fall over. Believe it or not, the train stopped in Thessaloniki to pick up even MORE passengers. It was truly amazing.

To say that we were exhausted by the time we reached Athens is a ridiculous understatement. All night and all day long, we had battled pushy grandmothers insisting on using us as makeshift seats, smokers who lit cigarettes in confined spaces who then fell asleep with the burning embers in their hands – and eventually on their clothes, and many equally frustrated Greeks who would look at us and shrug when we asked where the bathrooms were (we weren’t certain if that was an indication that they didn’t know where they were, or that they didn’t know how we assumed we were going to get to them, since there wasn’t even room to turn around on the train).

At around 5pm the next day, exhausted as we were from being awake since 9am the previous morning, we arrived in Athens. We still had about an hour long journey on the subway to get to the port city of Piraeus, so we slogged on, backpacks, boots, and all.

By the time we reached the port, we had resolved that we would invest in some first-class tickets on the 10 hour ferry ride to Crete’s port of Iraklio. We needed a shower and a good night’s sleep, and our ferry wasn’t leaving until 10pm, so we were going to be up a little longer, bringing us to a nice round 36 hours without sleep of any kind. If we were to take even one step further, we needed FOOD. This is where the blessed gyro comes in.

After buying our first class ferry tickets from a very nice gentleman who laughed at our story about the train and concurred that we had experienced a pretty typical journey from the northern part of the country, the search for food was next on our list. Our ticket provider told us that there was a great gyro stand just outside his office, and we were out the door before he even finished his sentence.

Gyros

The smell of slow roasted lamb and fresh garlic and cucumber filled us with so much joy that we almost cried. We each ordered 2 gyros, dropped our backpacks right there in front of the little smoky cart, and absolutely devoured them. The soft pita, the savoury yogurt, the tender meat and fresh, crisp veggies – we had never tasted anything so heavenly in our entire lives.

We experienced absolute nirvana that evening in Piraeus. After cementing the gyro in our memories as a delicious respite from travel torture, we found our ferry, fell face first in to our fancy cabin (after getting some strange looks from the staff, who wondered who we might have stolen our tickets from – to be fair, we looked pretty rough after all that) and fell asleep as our boat sailed from mainland Greece to Crete through the night. Had it not been one of the worst travel experiences we had this far, it may not have turned out to be one of the best.

In honour of tired and hungry travellers everywhere, please enjoy this recipe for home made Greek Style Gyros! May the Gods of Olympus provide you with a bounty, just when you think your trials have become too much to bear!
Gyros
Greek Style Gyros
Print Recipe
A delicious, home made version of the typical gyro (pronounced YEE-roh) that you might find while wandering the streets of Athens, Iraklio, or Thessaloniki. An easy way to make this recipe is in the oven, but if you can cook the meat on a barbecue, you'll have even more of that lovely flavour of meat slow-roasted over an open flame. Experience Greece's most popular street food without leaving home!
Servings
4 gyros
Servings
4 gyros
Gyros
Greek Style Gyros
Print Recipe
A delicious, home made version of the typical gyro (pronounced YEE-roh) that you might find while wandering the streets of Athens, Iraklio, or Thessaloniki. An easy way to make this recipe is in the oven, but if you can cook the meat on a barbecue, you'll have even more of that lovely flavour of meat slow-roasted over an open flame. Experience Greece's most popular street food without leaving home!
Servings
4 gyros
Servings
4 gyros
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. First, prepare your marinade. You will notice that some items in this recipe, like yogurt, garlic, and cucumber, show up more than once on your list. That's because some of those ingredients are meant to flavour your meat before cooking. Combine the 1/2 C of Greek yogurt with your Cumin, Aniseed, and your 5 cloves of crushed garlic. Smother your raw meat (either chicken breast, or a nice cheap cut of lamb or beef - the marinade will make any cut of meat nice and tender) with this spiced, garlic yogurt mixture, and seal in a sandwich bag. Massage and squish that bag of marinade and meat around until everything is nicely coated. Let the meat marinate for 4-24 hours.
    Gyros
  2. Once the meat has been marinated, you can remove it from the baggie, and throw out the excess marinade left in the bag. Set your oven to 375F. Drizzle a little olive oil and salt over your meat, and roast it in a shallow pan for 35-45 minutes, or until your meat is cooked through and slightly browned on the outside. It can be hard to re-create that tender, slow roasted flavour and texture of a proper gyro, but the yogurt marinade will help to super-tenderize the meat, and roasting it in the oven will give it a nice brown crust on the outside while allowing the meat to remain juicy! If your meat is cooked through but you really want that slightly crispy outside, you can slice up the meat and give it a fry-up in a shallow pan until you achieve your desired level of deliciousness.
    Gyros
  3. While your meat is in the oven, you can mix up some home made tzatziki (pronounced zat-ZEE-kee). Combine your 1 Cup of plain Greek style yogurt with your 3 cloves of crushed garlic and your 1/4 Cup of grated and drained cucumber (just grate the cucumber and set it on a paper towel for about 10 minutes, then give it a good squeeze to get the excess water out). If you like your tzatziki extra garlicky, feel free to add more! Mix up your creamy dressing and set it aside so the flavours have a chance to blend. You can add a little dill if you like, but it's not found in every tzatziki recipe out there.
    Gyros
  4. Now prep your gyro filling! Slice your tomato, remaining cucumber, and onion, and set them aside along with your pita - if you want to, you can brush your pita with a little olive oil and warm it up, but be careful not to toast it, or it won't wrap nicely around your filling.
    Gyros
  5. Slice up your roasted meat, and assemble your gyro! We like to start by spreading a layer of tzatziki on the pita, then placing a few slices of cucumber, tomato, and onion, then adding some of our sliced meat, and topping it all off with one more dollop of tzatziki, just because we love that creamy, garlic and cucumber flavour so much. Roll it up in to a nice cone that fits in one hand, and maybe wrap some paper or a napkin around the outside if you're worried about spillage. Enjoy!
    Gyros
Recipe Notes

NOTE:
One out of the two of us has become lactose intolerant in the past few years. As such, if you'd like to make a non-dairy version of this recipe, use our favourite method: instead of marinating in yogurt, use the same amount of cumin & garlic, but add olive oil, salt, and about a tablespoon of red wine vinegar. This will tenderize the meat much the same way that the yogurt would. And instead of serving your gyro with tzatziki, skip that whole step, and use hummus or tahini instead - delicious!

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