The recent international rally in meat prices, emanating from the devastating effects of African swine fever disease in China – the world’s biggest producer and consumer of pork – has touched a “raw nerve” in Greece, and specifically on a fast food mainstay considered the “sacred cow” of popular culinary culture: the ubiquitous souvlaki or gyro.
Souvlaki is, essentially, “meat on a stick” packed into a flour pita-bread, along with other assorted ingredients, such as tomatoes, onions, French fries and the garlic-yogurt flavored spread “tzatziki”, among others, and depending on one’s tastes.
Gyro, conversely, is thin strips cut from packed meat revolving on a vertical rotisserie. In both cases, the preferred meat in Greece for souvlaki (souvlakia in the plural) is pork, and to a lesser extent, chicken. The “doner” variety, widely popular in Turkey and the Near East, uses lamb and beef.
The ripples from the mass culling of animals in China’s pig farms were directly felt in Greece over recent days with widespread speculation of price hikes, following one high-profile estimate of a single souvlaki reaching three euros.
The speculation even generated a preliminary probe by the country’s competition commission into charges of profiteering at the wholesale meat sector, and prospect of cartel-like agreement for a higher price by relevant businesses, i.e. grill houses, which in Greece number in the thousands and are found in practically every neighborhood.
An “avalanche” of social media attention, followed by press reports, came with the appearance of a representative of a fledging association of grill house owners, who told the Skai television station that price hikes of between 10 to 15 percent were pending.
The self-described representative for the specific variety of fast food eateries, Giorgos Polyzos, said meat prices have already increased by 30 percent, a figure he said business owners could not fully absorb.
In response to the subsequent outcry, the president of the country’s restaurant federation, Giorgos Kavvathas, took to the radio this week to deny that such a price hike is in store for Greeks’ beloved souvlaki.
“You can’t speak of an increase from 2.20 euros (the current rate) to three euros. I can see an increase of 10 to 20 cents in the price of meat,” he said, adding:
“An under-establishment (sector) association instead of coming out and decrying (high) VAT rates says that, as of May 1, the price of souvlaki will increase… No one knows if we’ll see a price hike in the cost of meat at that time. It seems strange to me.”