Cyprus…for the love of food

Petra tou Romiou (Aphrodite's Rock)

Petra tou Romiou (Aphrodite's Rock) - on Cyprus' west coast

With summer holidays top of mind, I was commissioned to write a foodie travel feature on my home island, Cyprus for Gourmet magazine’s May issue – and naturally wanted to share with you FooDiva Friends incase a mini break’s on the horizon. Here is an abridged version – enjoy!

Cyprus is known as the island of love, thanks to the ancient Greek myth of the love goddess Aphrodite miraculously rising from the warm Mediterranean waters on the island’s west coast. Perhaps that’s why Cypriots’ love for food is well and truly set into those rocks. Similar to the Arab world, hospitality is second nature in Cyprus – no international visitor has ever escaped the generous, welcoming nature of the locals including a meal in their own home with recipes passed down through the generations.

Whilst Cypriot food is essentially Mediterranean with an emphasis on local ingredients, plenty of wild, aromatic herbs, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, it’s important to clarify that many dishes differ to those of Greece – but a slight influence of Middle Eastern cuisine does shine through. Many a doctor has boasted of the virtues of a Med diet – a wealth of grains and pulses, sun-ripened fresh fruit and vegetables (citrus fruit, grapes, melons and potatoes are major exports), freshly caught high-protein fish, lean meat and poultry and olive oil are not only healthy but deliciously appetising.

No visit to Cyprus would be complete without ordering ‘mezedes’ or ‘meze’ at a local taverna and you will stumble upon many – a fabulous feast of 20 plus tasting dishes. It’s a great way to sample the island’s cuisine on your first night out to help decide which dishes to order for your next meal. Some restaurants specialise in a seafood-only meze perfect for many a pescatorian.

Traditional Cypriot pastries and koupes

Traditional Cypriot pastries and koupes

A meze always starts with a traditional Cypriot village salad, toasted pitta bread (thicker and puffier than the Arab variety), olives and a number of dips – tahini, taramosalata (fish roe) and tallatouri, more commonly known as tzatziki. It’s then onto some quite quirky dishes such as octopus in red wine or snails in tomato sauce, moving onto the world-famous halloumi cheese made from sheep or goat’s milk – served grilled or fried. Slightly digressing but in the summer, you must savour it with refreshing watermelon (often bought off the roadside) – a true breakfast ritual. Mind you, mini savoury pastries also make a great brekkie treat – choose from fillings of halloumi, fetta, spinach, sausage or mince meat – or koupes, a lighter, longer and leaner cracked wheat version of Arabic kebbeh. Pick them up from bakeries dotted around every town.

It’s then time for grilled lountza (smoked pork fillet), keftedes (minced meatballs), sheftalia (minced pork sausage), loukanika (marinated pork sausages), and a vast selection of charcoal grilled lamb chops, kebabs, souvla (a larger, chunkier version of the kebab in chicken, lamb or pork) and kleftiko (lamb baked in a clay oven). Cypriots do love their pork! If you’ve not keeled over by then, a simple fruit platter or traditional preserved and very sweet fruit ‘glyko’ concludes the feast.

So where can one eat? For these mezedes, Plaka in the capital Nicosia is top of my list – the local institution of a traditional tavern that has been churning out marvelous mezes for donkey’s years (T; + 357 22 446498). But if you’re after something a tad more innovative, then I would recommend these two restaurants and relative newbies:

Archontiko Papadopoulouin a small village by the name of Kornos, a short 15 minute drive from Nicosia sits Archontiko Papadopoulou, a renovated mansion dating back to 1897, housing a restaurant and educational centre for Cypriot gastronomy. Now is the perfect time to enjoy dining in the open-air courtyard. Traditional Cypriot gestures are evident throughout, for instance guests are greeted with a few drops of rosewater in an antique silver trinket ‘hanapi.’ The menu changes according to seasonality of produce but the local delicacy starter of snails in a Commandaria (sweet, velvety Cypriot sherry) and rosemary sauce with caramelised onions tickled my palate. For mains, try the traditional baked lamb dish of tavas – and for dessert, a mille feuille with the local powdery soft anari cheese, walnuts and honey – a very light, yet delicious finale.

Vino CulturaVino Cultura - halloumi croquettes

Vino Cultura – a vino and tapas bar in the heart of Nicosia where the cuisine is inspired by master chefs of innovation Ferran Adria and Pierre Gagnaire. Dare we mention molecular gastronomy, or as Ferran would prefer ‘cutting-edge cuisine’ – expect bites like halloumi croquettes with a test tube squirt of pomegranate juice.

For many more FooDiva restaurant recommendations and a pretty place to stay in Cyprus, click here. If you’re after the original article, as well as a host of other foodie features, pick up a copy of Gourmet this week before it disappears off those supermarket shelves.

Sadly, we don’t yet have a Cypriot restaurant in Dubai, so if am home-sick and don’t fancy cooking, sometimes I head to the next best thing, the Greek restaurant Elia at the Majestic hotel – well worth a visit.

Have you tried Cypriot food? What are your travel plans this summer?

Both Emirates and Etihad operate direct flights (approximately 3 1/2 hours) from Dubai and Abu Dhabi respectively to Cyprus (Larnaca international airport). If you’re after sunny weather now until early October offers the ideal climate, or else April/ May for spring.

As they say in Cyprus, kali orexi – bon appétit!

FooDiva. x


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15 Responses to “Cyprus…for the love of food”

  1. Francine Spiering June 4, 2012 at 10:26 am

    Went to Cyprus last year Spring – when the citrus was on the trees. The smells in the air, the food, the scenery… oh I loved it! Your article, fab as it may be, did not help: now I want to cancel other summer plans, and go to Cyprus again.

    • FooDiva June 4, 2012 at 2:02 pm

      What part of the island did you visit Francine?

      • Francine Spiering June 4, 2012 at 2:23 pm

        Flew into Larnaca, then spent most time in and around Troodos mountains. Stayed in a small farm-inn (with fabulous home-cooked style food). It was higher up with spectacular views towards the coast (we were not too far from Polis). Spent a day hiking around Akamas NP. Gorgeous coastal views – walking was a little hard though after the elaborate fish-mezze lunch we had in a small fishing harbor). We travelled around a few wine areas inland from Paphos, and then stayed 3 more nights near that rock of Aphrodite you mention in the post. Culture, history, food, scenery. Loved Cyprus (not the main drags though)! But have not been to Nicosia, your food/restaurant descriptions made me put it on the immediate wishlist for a next trip!

        • FooDiva June 4, 2012 at 10:56 pm

          Sounds like you saw the most authentic parts. Nicosia is worth a visit for a stroll around the old town and the taverna scene – but you need a local to guide you 🙂

  2. Sally - My Custard Pie June 4, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    Bookmarking for when I eventually make it to this island. So tempting.

    • FooDiva June 4, 2012 at 10:58 pm

      And for some avgolemono too Sally!

  3. IshitaUnblogged June 4, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    Ahhh fell in love with your home:)

    Seems like love, food and charm is in the air surrounding the island. The best part about reading a lovely post is to start yearning for that place or simply make one imagine that he/she is already there…

    Lovely and the way you have described it am sure that we’ll come back after having looked after really well (when we visit and I hope it’s not too long a wait)!

    • FooDiva June 4, 2012 at 11:01 pm

      So true Ishita. I always find planning, researching and reading about a holiday/ foodie destination is sometimes more fun than the visit!

  4. Kelly June 5, 2012 at 10:41 am

    Apart from food, Cyprus has some very nice sandy beaches and clear waters mostly in the Ayia Napa and Protaras areas. Best time to visit is in May and September.

  5. Adriana June 21, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    Your post brings back so many lovely memories. I spent a whole summer in Limassol, six years ago. I loved every single day of my stay there. Great, authentic food and live music, very hospitable people, breathtaking landscapes (especially Troodos mountains and waterfalls), ruins and history…

    I loved the long thin stretch of beach in Limassol and the tourist area with its many hotels and resorts, and both modern and traditional restaurants and terasses. That reminds me of that sweet, caramel-flavoured taste of Commandaria. Too bad it’s not available everywhere.

    I’ve also visited the Kourion amphitheatre, the Kolossi Castle, Ladies Mile beach and Nicosia. There’s no place quite like Cyprus. And, surprisingly, it reminded me a lot of Dubai:)

    • FooDiva June 22, 2012 at 9:15 am

      Thanks for dropping by Adriana, all the way from London. Or are you in Dubai now? I often say I’d love to return to Cyprus as a tourist to really enjoy the whole island, rather than just visiting my very hospitable family! Commandaria is hard to come by overseas (you can get in Dubai though), but I do always bring some back with me – if you’re ever in Dubai please pop by for a tipple 🙂

  6. jimmy August 15, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    There is a cypriot restaurant called yia yia’s in dubai marine.

    • FooDiva August 15, 2013 at 9:19 pm

      I thought it had closed down…I went a couple of times when it first opened and the food and service was disastrous. Pretty decor though 🙂

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Eat Dubai | FooDiva - March 31, 2014

    […] I can see a Greek manager roaming around (natives can spot each other a mile away), but we are served by a friendly Kenyan brigade. Our waiter recommends a Greek salad and tzatziki for starters which would be fine as part of a mezze spread, but as standalone starters they are not substantial enough…well for my appetite . So he’s a little taken aback when I reveal my Greek-Cypriot nationality and make my own choices. Talking of which, the menu would benefit from a mezze selection – perhaps a choice of four to five appetisers at a set price. Whilst there’s plenty of souvlaki (kebab), the meat choices for kebab are beef and chicken (with lamb for other dishes) – no pork licence here sadly. And pork is a huge component of Greek cuisine. I should emphasise the food here is Greek-influenced, not so much Cypriot. Whilst there are many similarities, there are also many differences – more explained here and here. […]

  2. A culinary guide to Cyprus – the island with a love for food | FooDiva - August 11, 2014

    […] A couple of features yours truly wrote for The National and Gourmet.  […]

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