The Different Meaning 'Pita' Has In Greece

Many Americans think of pita as a pocket flatbread associated with what they consider classic Greek street grub: gyros. Or they're familiar with its use as a dipping wedge for hummus or other similar spreads, which they also associate with Greek or Mediterranean cooking. But, although the beloved pita is widely used in Greece, the word actually carries two different meanings in the Mediterranean country.

Elena Paravantes, an award-winning registered dietician and author of "The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook For Beginners," explains the difference on her website Olive Tomato. In Greece the word pita refers to a savory pie such as spanakopita (spinach pie) or tiropita (cheese pie). But it is also a generic term for the flatbread, which puffs up when cooked and often has pockets that are perfect for stuffing. 

Many people in the U.S. might regard it as common knowledge that gyros — a food often associated with pitas — originated in Greece. However, the truth about its origin and that of other "Greek" food is a little more complicated.

Many 'Greek' foods may not originally be from Greece

According to Eat This Not That, multiple foods that many people consider Greek are not actually eaten in the country or originated there. The gyro may not have appeared in Greece until the early 1920s, according to Greek Boston. The site reports it was brought there by Turkish or Armenian immigrants, although some of those arrivals are believed to have been of Greek ancestry. Gyros then became popular among tourists throughout Greece, immigrants brought them to America and other countries, and the food developed a following that persists to this day.

And although hummus is a staple of Greek restaurants in the U.S., it's quite possibly Middle Eastern in origin, according to The Spruce Eats. The publication reports that the word even means chickpea in Arabic. Also, tzatziki (Greek yogurt) sauce may have come from India via spice trade routes during the reign of the Ottoman Empire. Spiceography terms it the Greek version of raita, which is India's yogurt sauce.

These are just reminders that many cultures have different words for food and feature a melting pot of culinary influences. Yet good food often won't remain a secret for long, regardless of where it derived.