The culinary war

Athens

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Greece and Turkey have a common history, with conflicts that at times have been unresolvable. Today the war no longer involves being part of a territory or depends on the outcome of an old battle, but is fought in street stalls selling food. A typical kebab in Greece against the international kebab.

In view of the way the Turkish dish as spread all over the world, Greece has flexed its muscles. Its capital, Athens, has put the Parthenon to one side and jumped wholeheartedly into the cause: souvlaki, an iron stick traversing pieces of pork, has renounced its humble origins to become an authentic culinary experience.

“It can also consist of chicken, veal or lamb,” says Victoria Dolia, a 30-year-old psychologist and native of the Greek capital. The basic thing, she says, is that it be seasoned with salt, pepper and a squirt of lemon. And that it be grilled over coals, which gives it that mountain aroma that modern neighbourhood kebab ovens have lost. “It’s normally served with chips or the typical Greek pita bread, which is similar to Indian bread,” she adds.

Although in its beginnings it was scornfully called fast food or junk food, and was designed to be devoured on the run, it is now one of the star foods in this country of 10 million. Especially in the historical and political epicentre. Thanks, perhaps, to the marketing process present in all spheres of life, this dish has become part of the now-elitist club of street food that can be found in the tourist guides. And in the pages dedicated to gourmet offerings.

The complete menu is called mérida and includes rice or potatoes, slices of onion and tomato, mustard or ketchup and a minimum of two skewers. Like the kebab, no matter how much this annoys some people. “It’s wrapped in the bread and tzatziki is added, a cream of yoghurt and pickle,” says Dolia, who advises going to the Monastiraki area, in the centre of Athens, to choose from among a dozen options. “But they’re everywhere,” she insists.