Where did this Greek sandwich originate, and why do Americans constantly search “gyros around me” on Google? This article will try to answer those questions and more.
Tracing Gyro Origins
Archived articles from the New York Times identified gyros as a dish that dates back to ancient times. During Alexander the Great’s time, the Persian army ate spit-roasted meats during their campaign. But it was not until the Ottoman Empire that began in 1830 that the upright rotisseries, more commonly associated with gyros, was introduced.
Although doner kebabs, Turkish rotisseries prevalent in the Ottoman Empire, and gyros share similar cooking and construction techniques, they differ in their ingredients. But many authors suggest that the doner kebab greatly influenced the modern gyro. Despite the Persian influence in the cooking techniques, gyros are still strongly tied to Greece.
In the 1920s, Greek immigrants, together with Armenian and Turkish immigrants, popularized the upright rotisserie cooking style. In the 1950s, they brought this cooking technique and the flavors of the gyro to the US as they immigrated en masse.
Gyros and the World Wars
Even though certain food was scarce, war years sometimes led to unexpected food discoveries. During World War I and II, one of the first gyros traveled with migrants who had lost everything. As populations of refugees began fleeing ravaged lands across Europe, Asia, and Africa, they carried the knowledge of their food cultures with them.
Prior to the start of World War I, Greece and Turkey were engaged in conflict from 1919 to 1922, known as the Greco-Turkish War. The battle resulted in a population exchange between the two nations, with Turkish Muslims forced to leave Greece and Greeks expelled from Turkey. The war and its aftermath, called the Asia Minor Catastrophe, resulted in a shift in much of the continent’s demographics and culinary experiences.
After the end of World War II, many Greeks immigrated to the United States to escape the economic downturn in Europe. This second wave of immigration brought the gyro to Chicago and New York. When the United States repealed particular restrictions on Greek immigrants in 1965, many Greeks immigrated to America. The gyro fit perfectly into the fast-food boom in the country.
Gyros in New York and Chicago
New York and Chicago are a melting pot of cultures and a hub for great and easily accessible food. The New York slice and the Chicago hot dogs are evidence of their status. In the 1970s, the idea of getting fast and easy-to-handle food was entrenched in society. As people looked for the next big culinary discovery, they stumbled upon the gyro.
Although Greeks have been part of the food industry for years, it was not until the mid-1960s that a restaurant offered a gyro menu. In 1965, George Apostolou started selling gyros in Chicago. Later on, street-side gyro spots began popping up in Chicago and New York, and people lined up to buy one.
The appetite for gyros has grown ever since. Today, it is one of the most consumed food items in the country, with 21 percent foodservice cuisine penetration and an average of ten dish counts per menu.
Gyro is a dish that survived war, persecution, and distance. It also made a successful crossover from the streets to popular fast foods throughout the country. Fast food restaurants and independent gyro spots have made it possible for Americans to eat within a few minutes. With this much history, the gyro is no longer considered a food trend—it is a food item that is now entrenched into the fabric of American society.
Did that history lesson make you hungry? Good thing that George’s Gyro Spot is here for you! You can order your gyros online and have them freshly delivered to your home. Take a bite of history. Browse our gyro menu and order online today!