In 2010, my mom and I walked into a cafe in Mykonos, Greece to order a gyro. With a heavy accent, the man behind the counter asked us what kind of meat we wanted to fill the freshly baked, delicious looking pita wrap.
While I daydreamed about the fluffy bread entering my mouth, my mom answered, "Isn't lamb most traditional? We want an authentic Greek gyro."
The chef scoffed, leaving us both confused. At this point, I was practically drooling and did not have time for my mother's typical 1,000 questions that characterize every restaurant visit we've ever made. However, what the man said next caught my attention.
"We never make gyros with lamb here," he insisted. We continued to give him blank stares, assuming that we had entered the one cafe in the whole country that diverged from traditional lamb gyros.
He reiterated, "Lamb gyros are not traditional in Greece." Wait — WHAT? Turns out, all of our gyro beliefs have been an American lie. True Grecians, he told us, eat their tzatziki-covered wraps with pork, or less commonly chicken. If you need a moment to process and recover, you're not alone.
Greece, however, consists of a number of islands. Seafood is readily available and much more common to the culture than Americans might expect based on their experiences.
When it comes to seafood dishes in Greece, order with caution. During dinner one night, my parents decided to lean into the culture and try the fish.
When it finally arrived, I was taken aback by what was laid on the table— a whole fish looking back at me, bones 'n all. Luckily, our waiter deboned it for us. Right at the table. There's nothing quite like dinner and a show.
Since my food-filled trip to Greece several years ago, I have yet to find a restaurant that matches the authenticity of the food I tried in Mykonos. In fact, I doubt there are many restaurants, whether Spanish, Japanese, Thai, etc., that truly represent the original country's culture.
Bottom line: don't be afraid to enjoy the piled high plate of grape leaves from the cafe around the corner, but be aware of how Americanization affects cuisines from other parts of the world. And if a trip to Greece is in your near future, try the fish.