Great travels stay with you. A few days ago, during dinner with my new foodie friends in Orlando, I found myself telling the story of the perfect gyro. Let me share it with you today.
I spent my first night in Santorini gazing at the amazing sunset. Imagine a massive orb of fire, larger than you’ve ever seen, slowly becoming one with an azure sea, all reflected on pristine white houses built precariously onto the island’s cliffs. When the sun sets in Santorini, everyone stops and pays homage to nature’s beauty. And not just tourists, even tough little old ladies with faces wrinkled like a bad apple sit and comment on that night’s sunset.
But the next day, I set out on my quest. With Baby Jack strapped to my chest in the baby bjorn, I set off to explore the meandering cobblestone streets to discover the perfect gyro.
I found it within a few blocks of our hotel. I knew I’d found it long before the juices from the meat dribbled down my chin. The tip off was the long line of locals on their lunch break. It was just a shack really. A tiny kitchen under a corrugated roof with no tables and chairs. Just one man to cut the skewered meat with a long knife, and another who wordlessly handed you an aluminum wrapped treasure.
I bit into the gyro immediately, taking a moment to appreciate the warm pita before tasting the perfect combination of fresh tomatoes and lettuce, salty thin-sliced meat, and just the hint of tangy sauce. A handful of salty, chewy Greek fries had been sprinkled throughout, adding the glory of carbs to the equation. I gobbled it down, not caring whether the excess sauce dribbled onto the head of my docile sleeping baby.
And when I brought Steve back ten minutes later, I gluttunously had a second gyro. It was even better than the first.
It wasn’t until the second day that I noticed them. I was standing on line with the locals, mouth watering in anticipation, when I detected some motion on the stone wall under the shop’s counter. I focused my eyes more carefully and saw nearly a dozen roaches, running casually in and out of the crevices from the stand. The roaches were everywhere; the wall seemed to be alive with them.
I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the repulsive creatures with their quivering antennas and their telltale speedy motion. The sight of one of these insects in my New York City apartment was enough to keep me awake for days. But here amidst the enchanting colors of the Aegean sea, they weren’t as horrifying.
I didn’t run screaming back to my hotel to attempt to regurgitate the previous day’s lunch. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even get out of line. I watched the locals in front of me in line, noticed how unconcerned they were with the roaches. Then I remembered the taste of those two sandwiches the previous day, and I put mind over matter.
That third gyro tasted even better than the first two. But I have to admit that I peered carefully before every bite, and the gyro meat’s juices didn’t run down my chin with the same abandon.
When I finished the last bite, I was proud of my courage, my foodie balls of steel. This was long before Anthony Bourdain had begun circumnavigating the globe in search of authentic food, but I somehow had a sense that I had achieved traveler greatness. But I have to confess: that was my last gyro for the trip.