Spiedini, skewers, shish kebab, brochettes, satays, as our ancestors discovered that the easiest way for preparing meat was roasting it over the flame, they accomplished that by putting pieces of meat on long thin pieces of wood. This happened to be the invention of the first skewer that became then the most popular utensil for cooking over the flame, used since then by all populations and nations up to today.
The use of skewers was recorded in the histories of many areas. Japan has a very long history of cooking and grilling meat over charcoal, and Hawaii roasts almost everything over the fire with skewers: from meat to fruits and pineapples.
In modern times, skewers are used in variety of ways: for candies and other sweet products, to garnish cocktails, and many others types of street-food that are sold “on a stick”.
Materials from which modern skewers are made, range from the traditional wood and bamboo, to the glass, metal and other decorative materials.
The most popular food on skewers is the “shish kebab”. Everybody knows what a shish kebab is, but most don’t know the original meaning of the words. In Turkish, “sis” means sword and “kebab” refers to meat, more specifically lamb or mutton.
When the kebab made its way to Greece via the Turks, it turned into something different. While the pieces of meat remained small, the lamb was interleaved with chunks of tomato, onion, and green pepper. This was then popularised in other countries, with beef and chicken, often preferred over lamb and pork. Kebabs became popular in the 1960s, when Greece was a featured setting for movies and became a frequent tourist destination.
The kebab went in many other directions, too, along the Silk Road eastward by traders who found cooking small morsels of meat over an open flame on a stick quick, cheap, and efficient. In Georgia in the Caucasus Mountains, the kebab became known as a “shashlik”, and from thence developed into an important aspect of Russian cuisine and that of other former Soviet republics. In Pakistan and India, the meat variations on the shish kebab proliferated, including several forms featuring ground lamb and chicken formed onto skewers, or sometimes cooked without the stick on a griddle or even steamed or deep fried.
The kebab eventually made its way to widespread locales, partly propelled by the spread of Islam, including Indonesia, where it was known as a “Satay”, made with chicken or beef and served with a fiery peanut sauce; and northern Nigerian, where flat pieces of beef or lamb called “Suya” are cooked over a charcoal brazier and then coated with crushed peanuts. Kebabs even reached Japan, where they spawned the “Yakitori” style of cooking.
Nowadays, you can also get kebabs cooked by the side of the road as street food on nearly every continent.
Let’s see the most popular versions in the European countries.
Spiedino: the word “spiedino” is a diminutive of “spiedo” the Italian food term for skewered meat. The chunks of meats are marinated and alternated with sausages, chunks of tomato, onion, and pepper. Brochette refers to food cooked, and sometimes served, on “brochettes”, French term for skewers. Food served “en brochette” is generally grilled.
Souvlaki (Greek: σουβλάκι) is usually served with grilled bread, or in a pita wrap with garnishes and sauces, or on a dinner plate, often with fried potatoes. The meat usually used in Greece and Cyprus is pork, although chicken and lamb may also be used. In other countries and for tourists, Souvlaki may be made with meats such as lamb, beef, chicken and sometimes fish. The word “souvlaki” is a diminutive of the Medieval Greek σούβλα souvla “skewer”, itself borrowed from Latin “subula”. The term ”souvlaki” is common in Northern Greece, while in Southern Greece it is called “kalamaki” and the word “souvlaki” is used for the sandwich (with bread or pita) independedently of the kind of meat it contains, … a “kalamaki” or “gyros”.
Espetada: derived from the Portuguese food term “Espeto” for skewered meat, is a typical Portuguese dish made usually of large chunks of beef rubbed in garlic and salt, skewered onto a bay leaf stick cooked over hot coals or wood chips.
Pincho moruno: “Pinchitos” or “Pinchos Morunos” is a Moorish-derived cuisine typical of the Spanish autonomous communities of Andalusia and Extremadura. It consists of small cubes of meat threaded onto a skewer (Spanish: “pincho”) which are traditionally cooked over charcoal braziers.
Frigărui: is a Romanian dish consisting of small pieces of meat (usually pork, beef, mutton, lamb or chicken) grilled on a skewer, similar to the kebab. Often, the pieces of meat alternate with bacon, sausages, or vegetables, such as onions, tomatoes, bell peppers and mushrooms. It is seasoned with spices such as pepper, garlic, savory, rosemary, marjoram and laurel. The word “frigăruie” is a diminutive form of “frigare” which is derived from “frige”, meaning “to grill” or “to fry”. This in turn comes from the Latin frῑgĕre “roast, fry” and as such is a cognate of the English “fry”.