Food and Drinks in Cyprus
Apart from the obvious Greek roots, traditional Greek Cypriot food also has Turkish influences. Starting with the ‘meze’ which are small dishes of local delicacies which are enjoyed slowly with good company over drinks, this style is more suited to the Arab way of eating and not so common in Greece. These small portions off delicious fresh local food, keep on arriving until you just can’t eat anymore! This is the perfect way to sample the seasonal produce and tastes of Cyprus, do yourself a favor and try a proper meat or fish ‘meze’, you will not regret it.
Typically Cypriot are the local sausages, loukanika or the very spicy pastourma, which are made with pork and cured with wine, and our world famous Halloumi cheese which is enjoyed internationally. Cypriots are huge meat eaters, no family get together is complete without the ‘souvla’ which is pork, goat of chicken cooked on big skewers over charcoal. Koupepia, which are called dolmades in Greece, are mince and spicy rice filling, wrapped with vine leave, large spinach leaves and sometimes even cabbage, slow cooked in a tomato sauce and served with fresh yoghurt.
Dips are also very popular in Cyprus. Tahini dip, Tsatsiki (sometimes called Tallatouri) Taramosalata, Hummus, Eggplant Dip and others, are regularly served with warm pita bread. The Cypriot Pita bread opens up into a pocket and one of the most popular take away dishes, the all in one meal, is the Souvlaki, which is pork or lamb kebabs with salad and yoghurt in Pita bread.
Another classic Cypriot dish, is ‘Kleftiko’ which is lamb or goat cooked very slowly in a clay oven until it literarily falls off the bone. This is very popular and you will find tavernas selling it all over the island. Meals that are eaten often in Cypriot homes are legumes like all kinds of beans, chickpeas and lentils. The lentil dish that is only made in Cyprus is taken directly from Turkish cuisine and is called ‘mougentra’ this is lentils cooked with rice and finished off with onions fried in olive oil. Other popular dishes in Cypriot homes are all kinds of stews and roasts with the famous Cyprus potatoes which are the best in the world!
When it comes to desserts, in summer the Cypriots favor fresh fruit which is in season, yoghurt with honey and walnuts or preserved fruits which they make and serve with cold water. One of the most popular desserts is machalebi, which is also partly Turkish, this is a cornstarch pudding immersed in rosewater and sprinkled with sugar, a very refreshing dessert on a hot day. Other desserts to try are the small pastries with ricotta and rose water called ‘bourekia’ and the custard pies (Galatoboureko) or the renowned Baklava. Thaktilla which translated means lady fingers are delicate pastries filled with almonds, sugar and cinnamon, deep fried and dipped in an aromatic syrup. If you are lucky enough to be served these, grab the chance as they are truly delicious.
When it comes to drinks, the Cypriots enjoy their wine. Wine in Cyprus has gone through a transformation, and over the last decade great advances have been made with all the boutique wineries opening around the country especially in the Limassol and Paphos areas. Cyprus wines can now compete with some of the best in the world and many varieties have won awards. Mention has to be made of the dessert wine, Commandaria which dates back to 1188 the time of the crusaders. In those days they called this delicious sweet wine ‘La Grande Commanderie” and it is the oldest known wine in Europe.
The other drink that is enjoyed in Cyprus is the strong spirit, Zivania. If you are with company and are offered a shot, drink with caution as this spirit has a very high alcohol content. The hot summers will find many people drinking the excellent ice cold local beers.
When it comes to coffee, Cypriot or Turkish coffee as it is most often called is what the locals drink in the coffee shops. It is quite common to be offered this coffee throughout the day and if you are asked if you would like coffee, this is what you will get unless you specify otherwise.