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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 3 September 2016
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 3 SEPTEMBER 2016 25 OPINION No fries thanks, I’m Greek As the street food visibility of the classic souvlaki gathers strength, we go back to the age-old question: will you be having fries with that? GERARD PAPASIMAKOPOULOS Souvlaki is arguably the first Greek word a tourist enters into his or hers I'm-learning-a-little-Greek book. Okay fine, there is actually another word that comes first, the one that refers to an individual that likes to fiddle with his nether regions a tad too much, but BEYOND THAT, it's souvlaki. No question, no challenger. It's souvlaki. Call it the pita wonder, call it the meat torpedo, call it the hangover cure, call it a wrap-with-everything, call it what you want. One thing is for certain. The souvlaki is fast becoming an ever-more-visible street food staple. Known to Greeks everywhere as such for absolute ages, the souvlaki is a relative newcomer for new-age street food aficionados. I'm already hearing cries of anger and desperation from purists so allow me to explain. When I mean souvlaki I don't mean the even humbler meat-on-a-stick, I mean the souvlaki and pita combo, which is in effect one of the first wraps ever conceived. Although the street food scene is young, vibrant and eager to evolve beyond its late-night-unhealthycrud beginnings, the souvlaki (and pita, FINE) has more or less stayed true to its original recipe, no matter where you find it: a mediumsized flatbread (pita), a meat skewer (souvlaki), sliced tomatoes, onions and yoghurt (or tzatziki for those of you that don't have to kiss anyone straight after). Sure, there are plenty of plays on it, but it never strays too far from home. The only real addition that has muscled in on the souvlaki fundamentals and created heated debate among the foodies of the world are those everpresent French fries. Yes, French fries, ladies and gentlemen, fried potatoes, chips, you know them and (most of you) love them. Creeping into the souvlaki recipe sometime during the early ‘90s, the French fry may have seemed to be a rather uncomfortable bedpartner at first, but its infiltration mission has met with such success, that for many a souvlaki without French fries is no souvlaki at all. Which frankly – and yes I'm showing my colours here – is a damn outrage, I tell you. I mean for a start, it makes absolutely no sense. French fries on the side? Sure, you can have your French fries on the side. Heck, have a bucket full of them. Load a pool with them and dive straight into that oily, starchy goodness if you so wish. But in a souvlaki? That's surely blasphemy. Look at the structural facts people. A souvlaki is street food perfection personified. A beautifully-wrapped flatbread, tight at the bottom and loose at the top so you can gain access to all the wonder that it holds inside, but not at the cost of soiled clothes, the right balance of meat, vegetables and condiments and there you are. Away you go, souvlaki devoured with no fuss at all. Now let the French fries in. No, no, you invited them, don't let them stand there like a cousin that doesn't like deodorant, LET THEM IN. Yeah, you do that, let those starchily, obnoxious fellas stroll into the souvlaki party and ruin it for everybody. Let them talk over everyone else, drowning out the tender whisper of the tomato, the elegant flavouring of the yo- ghurt, hell, let them smother that meaty goodness while you're at it. Yeah, you do that, leave the onions to fight it out alone, as they struggle to imprint their strong, sharp, pungent taste on your brain. Just let those French fries ruin everyone's good time. Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against French fries. Nothing at all. Give them to me on a plate, escort a platoon of condiments right next to them and I will go to town on them, I can assure you of that. But by golly, a souvlaki is not the place for them. They push the structural integrity of the wrap to breaking point, they pretty much whitewash all the other flavours out and they just SIT there, on top of it all, like an overweight Labrador on a young child. Sure, it may be cute in a let's-put-it-on-youtube kind of way, sure the Labrador means well, but the child cannot move and it's legs are going numb. The souvlaki is that child. And you're making its legs go numb. Are you happy now? Couldn't the Labrador just sit on the carpet next to it? Couldn't it? I'm sure some of you will object, some of you may even see me as some kind of anti-French fry-campaigner, a lunatic who wishes to take away the god-of-starch from your precious meat wrap. If that's the way you see me, if that is what it takes, then fine. I will carry the particular oily cross. Some things stay the same for a reason. They make perfect sense. Their cosmic universal wisdom is such that to change them would bring about the destruction of all that we know. Have you ever seen the sun come from a different direction? No, you haven't. Have you ever seen a decent film with Nicolas Cage in it? No, you haven't. Have you ever seen Darth Vader pull out his lightsaber where a force choke would suffice? No, you haven't. That's because some fundamentals provide the foundations upon which our humble societies are built on. The same goes for the souvlaki (and pita) people. Don't put French fries in there. You are messing with powers way beyond your ability to comprehend. You have been warned.
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