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Souvla has many times been humorously called the national food of Cyprus, which for some is quite fitting as it depicts Cypriots as meat lovers. It is Cyprus’ version of barbecue and is usually enjoyed on special occasions, especially before or after periods of fasting like Christmas or Easter.
Souvla is made from large pieces of pork, chicken or lamb passed on large skewers (the souvla) and then slowly grilled over hot charcoal on a foukou, the traditional Cypriot grill.
The foukou is an integral part of the process for cooking both souvla and souvlaki, For souvla, the long side of the foukou is used, in contrast to souvlaki where the shorter skewers are placed across the rectangular grill. The uniform cooking of the meat is ensured by the use of battery-powered motors that rotate the skewers both along and across the foukou at the same time. There are two levels on the foukou, allowing for the simultaneous cooking of up to three souvlas (two at the bottom, one at the top).
Unlike souvlaki, souvla is sometimes marinated before grilling. People have been known to use yoghurt, wine or beer as marinades, even though it is up to the souvla maker and his or her creativity. Purists prefer it plain.
You will find souvla at most Cypriot restaurants as part of meze, it will almost always be served at traditional weddings and is the centerpiece of a feast at celebrations right before or right after fasting.
There is actually a 4-day celebration of meat-eating before Lent that starts with “Tsiknopempti” (Thursday of meat grilling) and ends with Meatfare Sunday, exactly one week before Katahra Deftera (Green Monday) which marks the beginning of the Lenten period.
Souvla is usually served with potatoes and salad and enjoyed with local beer or wine.