With emphasis on fresh local ingredients, a pungent mix of herbs and spices and a light spattering of olive oil, Cypriot food is essentially Mediterranean, similar to that of Greece and with a hint of the Middle East and Asia Minor.
Both poets and travellers past have praised the flavours of the island. In present times doctors and health specialists have added their voices in extolling the virtues of the Mediterranean diet. The grains and pulses, sun-ripened fresh fruit and vegetables, high-protein fish, lean meat and poultry, olive oil and wine are both a healthy option as well as an irresistible temptation.
In a society of extended families with close ties, it is not surprising that home cooking is an important feature of everyday life, with recipes passed down through the generations. Having a hearty meal in the company of friends and family is what it’s all about. No wonder that hospitality and conviviality are deeply ingrained in the Cypriot psyche, so much so that pleasing has become a fine art. So give free reign to your taste buds and indulge in a culinary feast.
Get to the heart of Cypriot culture by exploring its delicious cuisine, an exotic blend of Greek and Middle Eastern dishes.
Start your culinary adventure by ordering ‘Meze’ at a restaurant where you will be faced with a lavish feast of all the local delicacies but make sure you pace yourself for the 20 or more dishes that will arrive.
When you order Meze in a Cyprus hotel or restaurant, you are served a rich selection of appetizers and savouries in up to 20 saucer like dishes. For example various cheeses, like halloumi, kaskavalli or feta, tomatoes, olives, celery, sliced artichokes or smoked ham, humus (ground chick peas, with olive oil and garlic), octopus (or squid), shrimps, fresh fish, such as barbouni (the delicious red mullet), succulent snippets of chicken or turkey, cucumbers, green peppers, tomatoes, shiftily (homemade sausage), koupepia (stuffed vine leaves).
The local bread made of home grown wheat and the village salad with fresh coriander, green olives, olive oil, lemon and feta cheese make the mouth water. So can taramosalata, a delicious dish made from fish roe, olive oil and lemon.
Be sure to try Cyprus’ famous ‘halloumi’ cheese made from sheep and goat’s milk. You can have it in all kinds of different ways, from grilled to fried or on its own, and in the summer you must try it with watermelon, for an unusual combination of flavours.
Amongst the dishes you would expect to be served in most of the Cypriot restaurants and definitely should try when dining out in Cyprus are:
• Meze -The definite introduction to Cypriot food! – Meze consists of around 30 different dishes, meat or fish based. A unique eating experience, and a must try for every visitor to Cyprus.
• Afelia – Pork marinated in wine and coriander.
• Sheftalia – Grilled spiced mince balls.
• Koupepia – grape leaves stuffed with minced meat and rice.
• Stifado – Beef stew casseroled with wine, spices and lots of onions.
• Loukanika – Sausages soaked in red wine and smoked.
• Kleftiko – Lamb slowly cooked in a sealed clay oven and seasoned with bay leaves and other spices.
• Lountza – Smoked pork done in a very Cypriot way
• Talatouri – A much tastier version of the Greek Tzatziki, a yogurt dip with fresh mint and garlic.
• Kalamari – Fried squid. Calamari in Cyprus is tender and especially tasty with fresh lemon juice.
• Feta – A salty, white cheese made from sheep’s or goat’s milk that is cured in a brine solution.
• Halloumi – A Cypriot cheese made from sheep or goat milk. It has a high melting point and is usually fried or grilled. It can also be served in sandwiches, salads or with fruit particularly watermelon and wine.
• Tahini – A pureed sesame seed paste that can be used as a dip or as an ingredient for other dishes. (This is also of Lebanese origin).
• Souvlaki – Literally, little skewers of meat. It is can be served either as a sandwich in a pita or on the skewers. In Cyprus, the souvlaki is usually pork, but could be also be chicken or lamb.
• Gemista – all kinds of stuffed vegetables such as: peppers, tomatoes, onions, courgettes, aubergines or stuffed courgette petals.
Cyprus has a lot unique offerings on the dessert and savoury front as well. Some of these you should try on your visit to Cyprus are:
• Loukoumades -Deep fried doughnuts with honey syrup.
• Shiamali – Semolina cake sometimes done with orange or almonds.
• Daktyla – Pastry done in the shape of fingers with walnut or almond, cinnamon and syrup.
• Loukoumia – Cubes of gelatine flavoured with rose water and covered with powdered sugar.
• Kolokotes – A pastry filled with red pumpkin, raisins and cracked wheat.
• Koupes – Fried cracked wheat filled with mince mint and spices.
• Souzouko – a favourite at Cyprus festivals and fairs, it is made by dipping strings of nuts in heated grape juice until it solidifies.
• Kourabiedes – small almond cakes coated in icing sugar.
• Melomakarona – honey cakes.
• Finikia – walnut cakes.
• Kadeifi, Baklava and Galatopureko – very rich, sweet cakes made with honey.
• Fresh Fruit – fruit is often served as a dessert. Local fruits are watermelon, oranges, strawberries, grapefruit, tangerines, melons, apples, pears, prickly pears, cherries, apricots, figs, pomegranates, bananas, plums, grapes and dates. These are generally served fresh, in season and possibly straight off of the restaurants owners own trees! Can’t get any better!
Wash it all down with one of the local beers or wines. Cyprus has a long tradition in winemaking that goes back over 4,000 years. In ancient times wine was a major source of wealth for the island. The island supplied the Pharaohs of Egypt and Cyprus wines were in great demand amongst the ancient Greeks and Romans. One very old sweet wine, Commandaria, is acknowledged to be one of the oldest named wines in the world, which according to legend, was originally made for Richard the Lion heart and the Crusaders. Zivania, Cyprus famous firewater, made from highly-distilled grape juice, is almost pure alcohol and packs a neat punch.
For a healthy drink try a freshly squeezed fruit juice from the plethora of fresh fruit available on the island. ‘Airani’ made with live yogurt is incredibly refreshing, perfect for hot summer days, while ‘soumada’ is a warm comforting almond drink served with hot water.
At any opportunity order a Cyprus coffee, especially when whiling away the time playing a game of backgammon. This strong coffee is ordered ‘sketo’ (no sugar), ‘metrio’ (medium) or ‘glyko’ (sweet) and always served with a glass of cold water.
Famous drinks of Cyprus also include:
• Zivania – a potent Cypriot alcohol made from grapes.
• Ouzo – An anise flavoured (liquorice) alcohol that is made in Cyprus and Greece. It is usually mixed with water (50/50) which creates a cloudy appearance.
• KEO – A Cypriot beer. The company that makes KEO beer also sells KEO water and KEO juices.
• Frappe – An iced coffee drink. It is either glykos (sweet), metrios (medium sweet) or sketos (no sugar). It is also ordered with milk (me gala) or without.