What is pita?
Greek pita or pitta (Greek spelling πίτα, pronounced “pih-ta”) is an oval flat bun, soft in consistency and neutral in taste. The variant that you encounter most often is “hollow” inside and can be split open and filled. But that is not the only pita bread in Greek cuisine: there are also flatbreads that can be used as wraps.
Pita bread looks a lot like the flatbreads from the Balkans and Arab countries, but in the eyes of the Greeks, they are not interchangeable. To enjoy authentic souvlaki you eat with a Greek pita folded around it – using any other flatbread would be a sacrilege.
The word ‘pita’ comes from the Byzantine Greek that was spoken from the fifth to the fourteenth century and means “bread” or “cake”.
Did you know...
Pita bread has only a few ingredients. According to experts, the secret lies in the quality of the main ingredient, the wheat flour. The better the flour, the better the bread.
How to make pita
Good-quality bread flour is mixed with warm water, yeast, salt, sugar and olive oil into an elastic dough that is left to rise for half an hour. Some chefs also use milk in their dough. The dough is divided into pieces and each piece is rolled into a circle.
To make the well-known hollow bun, the dough circles are baked on a plate in the piping hot oven or over a fire – the bun then bulges immediately and the two halves remain separate as the bun cools. For a pita wrap, the dough circles are lightly spiked with a fork and baked in the pan.
For variation, chefs sometimes put herbs or spices in their dough, such as fresh thyme, oregano, nigella seeds or poppy seeds.
How to eat pita
Pita bread is always accompanied by other dishes. The hollow version is often filled (usually with meat, such as gyros), and the flat version is used as a wrap (also usually with meat). At its simplest, you eat the sandwiches with Greek dips.
Flatbreads can be found all over the world. Indian naan, baked in the tandoor oven, is very similar to the Greek pita. In Mexico, people eat tortillas, unleavened flatbreads made from corn or wheat flour that can be rolled into a burrito. In Italy, people love focaccia.