Cyprus…for the love of food
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.
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 Papadopoulou – in 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 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!