The 4,000 Year Old Greek Food That Changed Cooking Forever

The influence of the Ancient Greeks on the modern world cannot be understated. According to the BBC, we owe much of our mathematics, our alphabet, and our art to the wisdom of Ancient Greek culture. Alexander the Great was responsible for spreading Greek culture across the ancient East, while the Romans furthered the spread, by incorporating elements of Greek culture into their very own. Greek concepts and thoughts on government, in particular, have influenced the creation of numerous democracies and republics throughout history, including our very own, per National Geographic. And, as it turns out, the Ancient Greeks have had a massive influence on how we cook food. 

While we don't know exactly how humanity began its journey into cooking, we do know that the earliest form of cooking was roasting meat over a fire. Over the course of antiquity, advances in cooking techniques, such as steaming and the advent of pottery and thus boiling, changed the nature of what could be done with food (via All That Cooking). However, it was the Greek invention of what we today call souvlaki that ushered in another, new cooking technique that forever changed the way we cook meat. The Greeks, it would seem, invented the concept of modern grilling and fast food.

Developing a new method of cooking

The souvlaki we know today was introduced to the Ancient Greeks as an "obelisk", which is a derivative of the word "obelos" which means "spit." The name is quite literal in the fact that, as it is today, the ancient souvlaki was served skewered lengthwise either on its own or stuffed inside a slice of bread. Think your modern pita pocket (via Athens Insiders). Numerous references to this cooking method can be found in ancient texts, including Homer's Iliad, in which we meet Achilles cooking some meat over the flames. 

The ancient Greeks were among the first people known to cook meat in this way. According to Greek Reporter, archeologists have uncovered evidence of ancient grills that were used to make souvlaki. They consisted of two ceramic left and right sides, which created a channel that the coals would be shoveled into. The skewered meat would then rest straddled across the two sides, the heat from the coals cooking the slices quickly and efficiently. 

What the grills show is that the Greeks had developed an entirely new method of cooking that was far removed from the boiling methods of the earlier eras. What's more, ancient writings indicate that the method persisted and transformed. Thermopolia, grill carts, were common sights at Greek markets. So, not only did the Ancient Greeks pioneer the method of grilling, but they helped develop the ancient origins of fast food, a concept that has helped shape our modern food structure.