13 May 2019

I say souva, you say kebab...

| Alex Tricolas
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Wood & Coal will be putting on free souvas for lunch on Wednesday April 22 between midday and 2pm, and it’s all for a good cause. Of course, as this means you get to save your hard-earned, they are encouraging you to drop some of your windfall into the buckets of the good people from The Starlight Foundation who will be in attendance.

If you haven’t heard the word souva though, you may be wondering what the heck I’m talking about, as one look at the image above will probably have you exclaiming, “Hey that’s a kebab!” Or maybe “Hey, that’s a yeeros!” And you will be right, kind of.

The word souva is a relatively new and trendy abbreviation of the Greek word souvlaki–an Australianised slang term that seems to have originated in Melbourne’s souvlaki bars. You may also be wondering what the heck the difference is between a kebab, a yeeros or a souvlaki anyway; and the truth is, not much.

Linguistics aside, perhaps the biggest difference is in the type of meat used. Contrary to popular belief, the Greek diet is not heavily based on lamb, and a proper souvlaki is made of pork. Kebabs, being of Middle Eastern origin are almost always made of lamb, as religious observances in that part of the world do not allow for the consumption of pork.

But language is a funny thing and in the Balkans, the term food fight is more likely to refer to a full blown military conflict over whose regional cuisine is best rather than to a few larrikins throwing lamingtons at each other. So in light of the fact that I may be the instigator of an international incident, I will attempt to shed some light on the twisted web of words that ultimately amount to meat wrapped in flat bread.

The word souvlaki itself is a variation of the word souvla, which means spit. Adding aki to the end of any Greek word is a way of saying little, so the word souvlaki means little spit, as in skewer; hence meat cooked on a skewer is a souvlaki. These can be eaten on the their own, or they can be pulled off the skewer and wrapped in pita bread. Just like a kebab… or a yeeros.

In the Middle East and Turkey, meat–whether in pieces or minced–cooked over flames is kebab, or more correctly, kebap. If that meat is on small skewers, in Turkey it is known as sis kebap, from sis, which means skewer. If it is on a large rotating vertical spit, it is known as doner kebap, from the Turkish doner, meaning rotate. Which brings us to yeeros, the phonetically written word whose correct spelling is gyros, which also means rotate.

If things aren’t confused enough already, the word souvla is not of Greek origin, but is derived from the Latin word subula, meaning–you guessed it–spit. And the word kebab is used in Greece when referring to the skinless sausage made of pork that is otherwise called cevap in the Slavic nations to its north–also made of pork, and itself a variation of the word kebap, which is made of lamb.

Which brings us to the Turkish word kebap, a word that originated in Persia as kabab or kabap, which means to fry. Modern day Iranians do what they have done throughout history and serve their kabab on naan, a flatbread that is remarkably similar to pita… But that’s another story.

If all this has given you a hankering for some well-roasted meat wrapped in flatbread, Wood & Coal serves up a number of variations each day for lunch. They call them souvas–you can call them what you want–and to avoid any diplomatic incidents they come with lamb, chicken or pork. At 16 dollars with chips, this could be one of the best value sit-down lunches in town.

Once again, don’t forget to turn up to Wood & Coal on Wednesday April 22 for your free lunch. The good folks from The Starlight Foundation will thank you for it.

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