Are Greeks really preferring Souvlaki over Hamburgers? And is that a good thing?


A recent article in the English edition of the popular Greek newspaper Kathimerini noted that “burger joints are losing the crisis-spawned battle in the fast-food world to their Greek counterpart, the souvlaki shop”. It goes on to describe recent closures of two franchise restaurants of McDonalds in Greece and providing numbers of the dropping market value of fast food chains (which by the way also may include souvlaki chains), then it adds that “consumption of traditional Greek snack foods such as koulouri bread rings, cheese pies and souvlaki remains strong” without providing any numbers or data.

Contrary to what is implied by this article, Greeks are not eating souvlakia and ignoring “American” type food.

However, the public’s response in various social media websites show that they are happy that Greeks are preferring the Greek souvlaki, as if they are somehow returning to their nutrition roots. But here’s the thing: it’s not really like that and it’s not all that good.

Flawed Information
First lets just say why the information in that article is flawed: The article above fails to mention that in fact McDonalds is not closing in Greece and that the restaurant that was recently closed was a franchise restaurant and not owned directly by McDonalds, and that the company is looking for a new location to replace the store that closed.

Now while fast food places have seen a decline (which is normal considering the economic crisis), it is important to note their share of the market in general. According to an ICAP report (A Business Service Company that provides market reports) from 2009, it showed that the market for fast food in Greece was as follows:

  • Burger: 37,1%
  • Snacks-Sandwich: 32,1%.
  • Pizza: 22,1%
  • Souvlaki: 5,4%

I doubt these percentages have changed drastically, maybe a bit but hardly showing that Greeks are preferring souvlaki or other Greek snacks to burgers.

Nutritional Value of Greek Fast Food
But lets look at it nutritionally: The article mentions souvlaki but also mentions large Greek bakery chains that offer a variety of (Greek?) snacks for a reasonable price. Does this trend show that Greeks are returning to a Mediterranean style diet?

Not at all.

First of all souvlaki in moderation can even be a somewhat healthy meal, when it is done right, not the way it is done today. I remember the souvlakia I ate 30 years ago were small (in comparison with today’s souvlakia) and contained a smaller amount of meat,  accompanied with onion, tomato and tzatziki. All in all this was a meal with moderate amount of calories and the addition of tomato and onion along with the tzatziki provided a small amount of antioxidants. Today things are quite different: the souvlaki is huge; the pita is huge (sometimes double pites), stuffed with plenty of meat and the addition of other ingredients such as bacon and mayonnaise has become commonplace.

Mass Produced Greek Pies
As for the Greek bakeries, well yes, these may be Greek chains but a large (maybe even the majority) of products are not Greek and are not healthy. Yes there are some cheese pies (tiropita) and spinach pies (spanakopita) but also ham-cheese pies (zabonotiropita), which is basically ham and cheese wrapped in phyllo, sausage pie, quiches, pseudo-croissants (some filled with chocolate, others filled with ham and cheese), sandwiches loaded with cheese or ham or turkey, pizza, muffins and cakes. And many times these Greek pies (pites) are usually made with questionable ingredients such as hydrogenated vegetable fats, highly processed flours and other ingredients in order to keep the price low. So many times eating a commercial tiropita (cheese-pie) from one of these bakeries is completely different then eating a homemade tiropita with olive oil and real feta cheese.

So unfortunately, No. Greeks are not really preferring real Greek snacks instead of burgers, but highly processed snacks that somehow seem more traditional and wholesome because they are sold by a Greek bakery, when in fact they are not.

Pites-Pies: The Original Greek Fast Food
Yes we love our souvlaki, but what Greeks need are stores that sell homemade, delicious, traditional Greek fast food: Pites. Pites (pies) made with good, honest ingredients that are not only healthy, but represent the Greek food culture.

Photo by Elena Paravantes

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  1. Αριστοτέλης Στεφανόπουλος says:

    Greek here. In my entire life as an Athenian, I have yet to see someone saying “hey lets order some burgers”. In fact, besides McDonalds, I don’t even know where one can find a burger. In my entire life I’ve eaten no more than 10 burgers and all 10 were consumed while traveling outside Greece. These research results must be flawed or are results based on what tourists buy in Greece. As a member of a family that has a long history in the food industry (dealing with large number of supermarkets, fast food chain stores etc), my father has worked with McDonalds and other US-based stores like KFC and Dunkin’ Donuts (all stores are now closed in all Greece afaik) and looking closely at the numbers, over 70% of the McDonald’s income comes from touristic spots like Santorini, Zakynthos and Crete. It simply does not add up that a Greek would choose a burger over a good old gyro. Even pizza isn’t that popular.

  2. Informative article, but it leaves out a question not asked by the survey. Are Greeks eating the commercialized food, or are tourists? Many tourists are confused by new streets, maps, and languages so will have “comfort food” from memories of home to relax, before trying anything “foreign”, even though they are in a foreign country. Whereas Mc Donalds is a foreign food maker in Greece; traditional “souvlaki eaters” confused by the “Egg McMuffin” or “hot cake” (as should we all if we value common sense and heart health). Might as well make octopus ink ice-cream a wedding gift idea.

  3. Thanks for this article and for highlighting the ‘questionable ingredients’ that are found in most mass-produced ‘Greek’ foods. I don’t see too much of a difference between a tiropita made with hydrogenated fats and an order of fries from McDonald’s. It’s a treat when I find a bakery that prepares homemade tiropita with olive oil, though!