Greek Cypriot cuisine is influenced by Greek and Turkish traditions but also has its own unique flavours. The love of olive oil and the combination of fresh bread, cheese, seafood and seasonal ingredients make this cuisine a typically healthy Mediterranean diet. The best way to enjoy a Cypriot meal is to ask for ‘meze’ plates which will give you a variety of dishes to sample. A good tavern that serves a ‘meze’ will offer you seasonal dishes and a variety of dips, salad, vegetables and meat or fish dishes. Typically the meal is finished off with fresh fruit or yoghurt with nuts and honey.
Dips are usually served as side dishes with hot pita bread. The most popular ones are Tzatziki which is made with cucumber, yoghurt and garlic, Taramosalata which is produced from salted cod roe, lemon, oil and onion and Tahini which is made with sesame oil, garlic and lemon juice.
Halloumi Cheese & Village Yoghurt
One of the most famous Cypriot products is Halloumi cheese which has become popular all over the world. In 1999 this cheese was officially registered as a product of Cyprus. Although this cheese can be made with both goat and sheep milk, traditionally in Cyprus it was made with goat’s milk. The uniqueness of this cheese is that it has a high melting point and can be grilled or fried. It has a mild salty flavour and a rubbery texture and has become a huge favourite worldwide with vegetarians. In Cyprus, apart from lightly grilled or fried it is also enjoyed served cold with fresh watermelon. Another refreshing product is the thick and creamy strained yoghurt that is found on the island. This is made with goat or cow’s milk and is truly a delicious accompaniment to many dishes and also served with honey and walnuts as a dessert.
Cypriots love their meat dishes and ‘souvla’ which is traditionally cooked on long rotating skewers over an open fire, is a staunch favourite. This is usually made with pork or goat chunks of meat which is generously salted and sprinkled with oregano. Another favourite fast food meal is the Cypriot ‘souvlaki’ or kebab which is served with onion, tomato and cucumber in pita bread. Pita bread in Cyprus is different to the one found in Greece. It is thicker and can be opened and filled with the kebab and salad. You will find many stores that sell “pita souvlaki’ as an all in one take away meal. A typical addition to this kebab are ‘sheftalia’ which are a Cypriot style sausage prepared with pork mince, onion, spices and parsley wrapped in caul fat. This is grilled and served in the pita with the souvlaki or on its own as a typical meze dish. No meat dish in Cyprus is served without fresh lemon wedges. Another traditional meat dish is ‘Kleftiko’ which literally translated means ‘stolen meat’. This is traditionally made with lamb or goat meat and cooked in a clay oven or covered in foil and baked for many hours on low heat to produce a succulent and very tender meat dish. Pork is of a very high quality and cooked in many different ways. One of them is ‘Afelia’ which is cubes of pork fried and sautéed with wine and coriander seeds. ‘Loukanika’ are pork sausages specifically prepared the Cypriot way with spices and red wine. They are delicious grilled over charcoal. ‘Lountza’ is a cold meat made with pork and cured in wine. This can be bought as a cured cold meat or as meat which is fried and served as an appetizer.
Rice and Potato Dishes
One of the most popular rice dishes in Cyprus is ‘Koupepia’ or ‘Dolmades’ which is made with mince, rice, tomato and spices wrapped with either vine or spinach leaves. This dish can also be found in Greece and the Middle East. ‘Yemista’ is another favourite that uses the same mixture but filling peppers, tomatoes, onions, and especially pumpkin flowers and then baked in the oven. ‘Bourkouri’ or Bulghar wheat is also made as a pilaf with onions and tomatoes. This is served as a side dish with yoghurt. Cypriot potatoes are well known for their unique colour and flavour. They can be served boiled, baked or fried in a variety of ways. A typical Cypriot way to serve potatoes is fried with oregano or coriander.
Pulses and Lentils
In Cyprus lentils or ‘fakes’ are a very popular dish. Traditionally the Cypriot way to cook these are boiled with rice and then finished off with lemon and onion fried in olive oil. This is call ‘mougentra’ and is a dish that has its influence from the Turks who live on the island. Cypriots enjoy eating beans at least once a week, typically on a Friday due to the influence of religious fasts. Black eyed beans or ‘louvia’ are one of those healthy dishes that are served boiled with spinach leaves and served with olive oil and fresh village bread. ‘Fasolia’ or dried beans are also popular made with tomato, celery and onion or simply boiled and served with a dash of lemon and olive oil.
The most popular pasta dish in Cyprus is ‘Pastitchio’. This is a Cypriot type of lasagna, but made with macaroni and layered with an aromatic mince meat sauce and béchamel cream. This oven baked dish contains a lot of cheese and is delicious served hot or cold. Cypriot ravioli are also very popular and they are typically made with a halloumi cheese and mint filling. These are readily available frozen in supermarkets, but nothing beats the fresh ravioli that are made in many Cypriot homes.
Cyprus is famous for its fresh fish which is best served grilled and sprinkled with olive oil and lemon. There are many seafood tavernas dotted along the coastline which specialize in serving fresh fish. Grilled octopus and fried calamari are a huge favourite and can be enjoyed at any of these fish taverns. A fish ‘meze’ is a great way to sample the different types of seafood which can be enjoyed with fresh salad, potatoes and tahini dip.
One of the most popular desserts on the island are Lokoumades. These are small ball shaped fried pastries dipped in syrup or honey. These delicacies are served at festivals and special occasions. Another favourite is ‘bourekia with anari’ which is small fried pastries with a ricotta type cheese, flavoured with rose water, cinnamon and sugar. Spoon fruits or preserves are also served in most Cypriot homes and is not unusual to be offered one of these with a glass of cold water. This can be anything from ‘karithaki’ or walnut to preserved cherries.
The Cypriots have a rich culture when it comes to food. These are just a few of the most popular dishes on the island.