souvlaki vs shawarma

Souvlaki Vs. Shawarma: Differences & Which Is Better?

When it comes to fast food, every region has its unique variations on it. Take, for example, souvlaki from Greece and shawarma from Levantine Arab. Both are extremely popular in their respective regions and have gradually gained popularity outside of them. But what makes souvlaki and shawarma distinct and special?

Traditionally, souvlaki consists of meat that is grilled on a skewer while the meat in shawarma is roasted on a vertical rotisserie. Also, shawarma comes in the form of a wrap. Souvlaki, on the other hand, can be served with or inside a flatbread or on its own, usually accompanied by pieces of vegetables.

Both of these savory dishes have some fascinating origin story that correlates with the history and culture of their native region. As such, their method of preparation also varies significantly. And in this article, we try to highlight some of these facts.

What Is the Difference Between Souvlaki and Shawarma?

If you are having trouble differentiating souvlaki from shawarma, you came to the right place. I am about to list for you the main differences between these delicious meals.

Origin

Souvlaki is a popular fast food originating from the country of Greece. The term “souvlaki” comes from a Greek word that translates to “skewer”. This refers to the fact that the meat in souvlaki is cooked on a skewer. In fact, this method for cooking became popular in Greece even hundreds of years ago.

The modern version of the souvlaki saw widespread distribution after the second world war. It then became a staple of Greek fast food since the ’60s.

The inception of shawarma can be traced to Levantine Arabs, during the Ottoman empire. The method for cooking meat on a vertical spit became a popular practice during this period. This is what inspired shawarma, as well as another Greek dish called “gyros”, which shares many similarities with shawarma.

Ingredients

The main ingredient in both dishes is identical; meat. Be it lamb, pork, chicken, or beef, meat is the predominant taste in both dishes.

Outside of that core, you get a few variations. Souvlaki is typically served alongside small pieces of vegetables such as tomatoes, sliced onions, etc. Fried potatoes are also a common side dish as are lemon wedges. Of course, the beauty of souvlaki is that you do not really need to wait for any other elements and just do it on its own.

The meat in shawarma is typically accompanied by sliced vegetables, onions, and sometimes cheese. But the sauce and the meat make up the bulk of the dish. If you were wondering if shawarma is a caloric dish, you should be careful with portion size because pita bread and sauce serve you an ungodly amount of calories.

Preparation

This is where the most apparent distinction lies; the method for cooking the meat is different in the two dishes.

In souvlaki, the meat is grilled on a skewer. The meat can be in the form of small cubes or a long sausage, which is then pierced by a skewer and cooked on the grill. During the process, meat fat, spices, etc. may also be added.

In contrast, the meat in a shawarma recipe is cooked on a rotisserie. Thin slices of meat (chicken, beef, or lamb) are stacked on top of one another to form a large pile. Then the stack is hung up by a large rod and placed vertically on a spit. The spit slowly turns and meat is roasted in the process. Again, things such as fat, spices are also added to the stack.

The two dishes differ from each other in how they are served as well. Shawarma almost always comes in the form of a wrap. The wrap is most commonly some form of flatbread like pita or laffa. Other elements such as vegetables and sauces are also added to the filling.

Souvlaki is a more flexible dish in this regard. You can serve it by wrapping it in a flatbread, ala shawarma style. Or you can serve the bread separately with pieces of vegetables and some lemon wedges. And if you are feeling particularly impatient, you can take it straight from the skewer and eat it as it is; no need for a fancy setup or additional components.

Popularity

Both dishes are immensely popular in their native regions. Shawarma is one of the most popular street foods in Egypt, Lebanon, and various countries in the Middle East, as well as Asia. And this popularity has found its way in Western culture as well. Shawarma is a common item in the world of street food around Europe and America.

Despite being a hugely popular fast food selection in Greece, souvlaki has not become as common as shawarma in the rest of the world. However, in places where Greek cuisine is prevalent, so is this tasty treat.

Souvlaki Vs. Shawarma: Which Is Better?

Well, depending on the ingredients and specific method used to prepare the dish, people can have widely different experiences with these dishes. This is because there are many variations in the core concepts found throughout the world.

As for versatility, souvlaki is a better choice. You always need some form of wrap to enjoy shawarma. But you can enjoy souvlaki with or without one. 

It is always refreshing to try out different dishes from a different culture. This gives your palate something new and exciting, while also broadening your knowledge of the culinary world. 

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