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Food and Dining
Food is an essential element of any and every social occasion in Cyprus.
A conversation rarely takes place without coffee, beer or brandy being offered, customarily accompanied by a small snack. Cypriots love food, so it is does not come as a surprise that the country’s cuisine is so expansive. The island’s geographical position and its history have resulted in a very interesting merge of Greek, Turkish, Arabic and English culinary influences.
It is mainly at the weekend that families gather to eat at a relative’s house or at a restaurant or taverna, where groups of 15 people or more are nothing uncommon. These are informal gatherings where the table is usually strained to breaking-point under the incredible number of different dishes. Plates are piled high, and everyone tries a little bit of everything, although leaving a clean plate is unusual.
This style of dining comes from the Cypriot preference for meze (which means “mixture”), which consists of many small dishes with a little of everything that is available on the day in that taverna or restaurant. There is no better way to sample Cypriot cuisine than the meze, as you can literally enjoy the widest variety of local food in one sitting.
A meze always includes a few Cypriot specialties, mainly halloumi cheese, produced by thyme-fed goats and a delicacy which can be obtained only on the island.
Cypriot dishes are well seasoned, but not spicy, so there is no fear for visitors of stomach upsets.
Although Cyprus is an island, the price of seafood is quite high as this part of the Mediterranean is not rich in fish, and many species have to be imported deep-frozen. Traditional Cypriot seafood dishes include small, deep-fried fish and cuttlefish rings.
These are just some of the Cypriot dishes worth breaking the diet for during a visit to Cyprus:
- Afelia: pork, marinated with coriander.
- Village Salad: salad composed of cabbage, lettuce, celery, cucumber, tomato, pepper, olives, feta cheese and herbs.
- Bread: always white and a central component of every Cypriot meal.
- Fish: usually deep-fried.
- Fresh Vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, various kinds of lettuce, potatoes, mushrooms, aubergine, courgettes and celery.
- Halloumi: cheese made from either sheep’s or cow’s milk which tastes especially good when fried. You can only find this cheese in Cyprus.
- Hiromeri: smoked ham.
- Hummus: cold chickpea puree.
- Kleftiko: lamb simmered in foil.
- Keftedes: fried meatballs
- Kolokasi: root vegetables.
- Kolokithakia: courgettes either stuffed or plain served as a side dish.
- Koukia: broad beans, served either as soup or raw in salad.
- Koupepia (dolmades): stuffed vine leaves.
- Lountza: ham, usually served in sandwiches and fried with halloumi.
- Makaronia tou Fournou (or Pastitsio): macaroni cas¬serole made with ground meat.
- Meze: a little bit of a lot of dishes!
- Fresh Fruit: especially grapes, figs, melon, citrus fruits, and watermelon.
- Olive-oil: especially tasty and used generously in the prepara¬tion of many foods.
- Olives: marinated with garlic, coriander, lemon and rhyme.
- Pastourmas: garlic sausage
- Pitta Bread: flat, hollow rounds of bread filled with sheftalia or souvlaki and vegetables.
- Pilafi: coarsely ground wheat grains and vermicelli cooked in chicken broth and served with a selection of different vegetable side-dishes.
- Souvla: pork, chicken or lamb roasted on a spit, which is especially popular at family picnics, birthdays and special occasions. It is also considered a “man’s job” to take care of the spit.
- Souvlakia: grilled meat kebabs.
- Sheftalia: grilled sausage made of ground meat.
- Stifado: beef or rabbit stew prepared with onions.
- Tahini: sesame sauce with lemon and garlic.
- Talattouri (Tzatziki): yogurt prepared with cucumber and peppermint.
- Taramosalata: pink dip made of cod roe with lemon, potato puree, onions and oil.
- Trahanas: coarsely ground wheat grains dried with yogurt and added to soups together with halloumi.
If you have a sweet tooth, Cyprus offers plenty of delicious treats to finish your meal or to snack on:
- Baklava: puff pastry filled with nuts and soaked in syrup.
- Daktila (“ladies’ fingers”): finger-shaped strudel pastry filled with a nut-cinnamon mixture and soaked in syrup.
- Glyko tou koutaliou (“spoon sweet”): fruit or walnuts marinated in syrup and served with a glass of water as a welcome titbit for guests.
- Honey: often served with yogurt and almonds or anari.
- Koulourakia: a ring-shaped cookie or rusk biscuit sprinkled with sesame seeds.
- Loukoumades: deep-fried balls of choux pastry served in syrup.
- Loukoumia or Cypriot Delight: a culinary speciality from Yeroskipos, near Pafos consisting of cubes of gelatin served in rose water and dusted with powdered sugar.
- Palouzes: a kind of pudding made from grape juice and flour; it is the basis for soutzoukos.
- Pourekia: deep-fried pastry stuffed with anari, sugar and cinnamon
- Soutzoukos: a long chain of almonds strung together, dunked in palouzes and then dried.
Visitors to Cyprus will find an abundance of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Coffee is boiled in a little pot with sugar added upon request and poured into a cup together with the steeped coffee grounds. If you like your coffee sweet, then ask for a “glyko”, not very sweet but with some sugar is a “metrio” and if you prefer it black order a “sketo”.
In addition to beer, a number of excellent wines, local brandies and fruit liqueurs are available.
Traditional Festive Meals
As in many countries, Cypriots celebrate special occasions enjoying some special and specific dishes, many of which you cannot find any other time of the year.
- Wedding meal: ressi (wheat with meat), pastitsio, kleftiko, and kourabiedes (short-crust pastry filled with almonds) for each well-wisher.
- Easter: lamb souvla (on the spit), magiritsa or Easter Soup (made of parts from the head of either a calf or lamb and vegetables, served with garlic bread), eggs dyed red, and flaounes (a kind of turnover made from yeast dough and filled with eggs, cheese and raisins).
- New Year’s Eve: Vassilopitta, a cake made from yeast dough, spread with egg and generously strewn with sesame seeds and almonds. A coin is hidden within the cake and the one who finds it is the lucky person of the year.
In Cyprus you will find restaurants to suit all palates and budgets. Prices range according to the type of food served and the location. Waiters always speak English, which helps make your visit a culinary experience to remember.
The best way to get acquainted with Cypriot food is to order a meze, in one of the many Cypriot tavernas and restaurants.
In the summer you can enjoy your meal at one of the many an open air tavernas, usually decorated with vines and, in some instances, offering live Cypriot music.
If Cypriot food is something you don’t want to stick to during your whole visit, there is nothing to worry about, as in the whole of Cyprus you can find plenty of restaurants which offer a wide variety of international cuisine, going from Mexican to Chinese.
Most of the international fast food chains have outlets in Cyprus, and you will also find local versions serving kebabs or more traditional dishes.
Tips When Eating Out in Cyprus
Although a service charge will be included in your bill, it is customary to leave a tip for the waiter.
If you are travelling with kids ask for the restaurant’s children’s menu, as most outlets have one. If no children’s menu is available take note that portions are usually very generous, so you might want to order one dish to share between two kids.
Cypriots tend to dress up when dining out, so might want to bear this in mind if you are invited by local friends to join them at a restaurant or to eat at their homes.