It's easy to confuse both gyros and shawarma when they both seem very similar, even down to the pita, toppings, and sauces they receive. While they look very similar based on appearance, on a flavor level, the two are actually very, very different. Not only are they from different countries but the treatment of the meat is also completely different which, in turn, affects the flavor of both.

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When it comes down to which is better, well... that's like comparing apples and oranges. There will be people who prefer the fresh flavors of the gyro as a whole while there are others who will wholeheartedly appreciate the spices, seasonings, and time that goes into cooking shawarma meat. When it comes to these two dishes, the meat matters - both in its cooking, flavoring, and its type, as only one of them is known to have three different options traditionally. As shawarma becomes even more popular around the world and gyros start gaining a renewed love thanks to Greek restaurant popularity, these are the differences you should know in telling the two apart.


What Is A Gyro, Exactly?

It might sound silly to go over every aspect of a gyro since most people only want to know one thing: is it good? The answer to this, obviously, is yes, but so is shawarma! In short, a gyro consists of meat that has been spit-roasted vertically, and the meat of choice is usually pork. This might sound a bit contradictory since, in North America, a gyro usually comes with a choice of beef, lamb, or a combination of the two. However, a traditional Greek gyro will come with pork that has been slow-roasted and it's the process of carving the meat that truly gives it its unique texture.

As thin slices are carved off the spit-roasted pork, they're piled high on fresh pita before being topped with other things that add texture, freshness, and flavor to the meat that has been cooking for hours. Traditionally, these toppings are simple: tomatoes, onions, and tzatziki, which is a yogurt-based cucumber and garlic sauce. While it seems like the Americanized version of the Greek gyro has been around forever, the pita sandwich wasn't introduced to North America until the 1970s, according to Spoon University, and it steadily grew in popularity over the years. As its popularity grew, so did the changes that each culture made to it, such as using lamb, beef, and a mixture rather than pork. The way that gyros were cooked and sold underwent a change, too, and this is when the rise of food carts and food trucks began selling gyros by the thousands.

What, Then, Is Shawarma, Exactly?

Shawarma came from the Middle East and it's believed that its origins go back to the Levant. Therefore, right off the bat, the spices and meat that are used in this sandwich are pretty unique to the region and do not necessarily overlap at all with that of a gyro. The meat used in shawarma is very different from that which can be found on a gyro, as well; lamb, beef, veal, and even goat have been used on these sandwiches and in shawarma dishes. In theory, shawarma is closer to that of a taco than of a gyro! What we mean by this is that shawarma meat is marinated in a copious number of Middle Eastern spices such as turmeric, garlic, cardamom, lime, and cinnamon, which give it an unbelievable warmth and bold flavor. This spice blend is unique to the Middle East and in shawarma, the emphasis is on the meat and its flavor rather than the dish as a whole plus its toppings and sauces.

Shawarma is marinated sometimes for an entire day before being cooked and is similar to the gyro in the sense that it gets similar, but different, toppings. Toppings such as tahini, hummus, and tabbouleh are the most popular, and they have more mild flavors that don't detract from the main attraction: the meat. It's believed that this dish originated during the 19th century which gives it a long history just like the gyro but with different cultural influences. The translation of both 'gyro' and 'shawarma' both mean 'turning' which applies to the method of spit-roasting the meat. Another similarity is the time in which they both became popular in North America, which was the 1970s. It's believed that, just like the gyro, shawarma made its way over to the U.S. and became Americanized as it slowly became just as much of a New York City staple.

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