I’m half Greek and half Russian, which means that I’m supposed to fully hate Turks, Turkey, and everything Turkish. I don’t hate anybody, of course, but I was raised with some very specific ideas about the centuries of battles between Turks and Greeks.
For example, my Greek father taught me that everything that is good in the world was invented by Greeks. Gyros, democracy, baklava, mathematics, kabobs, philosophy, moussaka, and banana splits were all supposedly invented by Greeks. (We all know that sex was also invented by the ancient Greeks; Italians introduced it to women.) I was taught that my ancestors were writing great works of literature and philosophy while everybody else was still swinging from trees. And I was taught that Turks are scum.
Of course, I hate all of the stupid intolerant Greek superiority crap, and I have no taste for the spiteful BS about Turks. But I have to admit that I actually believed some of the food-based stuff that my Greek father taught me: I never thought that Greeks invented banana splits or kabobs, but I always assumed that gyros were an authentically Greek creation from our ancestral past.
So when an Istanbul-based fast food chain called Eat & Go opened a kiosk in Midtown East, I was surprised to see gyros on the menu. Of course, the word “gyro” had a subtitle: doner kebab. I thought that was pretty silly: why would an authentic Turkish restaurant—based in Istanbul!—serve Greek food? After all, Greeks invented gyros. I mean, I totally understand that gyros and doner kebabs are pretty much the same thing, but don’t the Turks have some original food of their own that they can sell us?
Sorry, Turkey: my bad. Gyros are all yours. So are doner kebabs. You’re the inventors, Greek-Americans are the thieves.
Thanks to the joys of Wikipedia, I discovered that doner kebabs were invented in Turkey in the 18th century. Greeks didn’t begin to eat anything similar until the 1950s, when doner kebabs made their way to Greece and were rebranded as gyros (of course, no Greek would dare eat anything with a Turkish name). In the 1970s, a pair of Greek immigrants in Chicago started to market the living hell out of gyros, and the sandwiches—gyros, doner kebabs, or whatever you want to call them—became a huge hit in the United States.
(I can hear my Greek father screaming now: “No, Turks didn’t invent gyros! It was Greeks! In Turkey, maybe, but they were Greeks! And do you believe everything you read on Wikipedia? What’s the matter with you? You have shit for brains!)
Anyway, I actually think that our Turkish friends at Eat & Go are being pretty damned smart by using both the Greek and Turkish names on their menu. Nearly every American can identify a gyro, but relatively few Americans are familiar with the term “doner kabab,” even though doners have become the default it’s-late-and-I’m-wasted food in many European countries. So the Turks are indeed trying to feed us Turkish food, but they’re wisely convincing Americans that we’re really eating a safe, familiar, Greek-American gyro.
The only bad news is that the gyro/doner at Eat & Go really wasn’t all that good. I’ve had better doners in France, Germany, Poland, and South Korea, among other places. The pita was dry and prepackaged and the spicy red sauce tasted too much like ketchup. Then again, a place called Eat & Go is clearly trying to sell us fast food… and by fast-food standards, that gyro/doner thingy was pretty darned good. Not quite as good as a Chilean McPalta, but better than anything you can get at Burger King or Wendy’s.
The meal was more than redeemed by the boureks, which are baked treats made from layers of phyllo dough and meat, cheese, and/or vegetables—imagine a savory version of baklava, and you’ll be close. In theory, a spinach bourek is the same thing as Greek spanikopita, except that the Turkish version has a doughier bottom layer, and doesn’t feel as relentlessly crispy as the Greek spanikopita of my youth. I’ll get disowned in a big hurry if I say that I prefer a bourek to spanikopita, so I’ll just shut up now.
I know that I’m supposed to hate this Turkish sh*t, but I’m actually developing a taste for the boureks. By Midtown standards, a $3.75 bourek qualifies as a cheap and charismatic snack, and I suspect that they’ll ultimately be habit-forming. Please don’t tell my dad, though… I’ll definitely get in trouble for this one.
Eat & Go
342 East 47th Street @ 1st Ave., Midtown East
Subway: Grand Central (4, 5, 6, 7, S trains) or Lexington-53rd Street (E, M)