Being so close to the Middle East has definitely had an impact on the island’s cuisine, as many dishes are similar to those in the region. Flavours are also shared between Cyprus and Turkey, but the island’s cuisine is closest to the refreshing Greek gastronomy. Here are some unique foods that you have to try.
Halloumi is probably Cyprus’ most famous product, with its popularity extending to many countries throughout Europe and the Middle East. Distinguishable by its mild salty flavour and rubbery texture, the delicacy has become a favourite for chefs across the globe, appearing in dishes as diverse as lamb roast and halloumi fries.
The cheese is produced by combining a mixture of goat’s and sheep milk, before being set with rennet. This is an unusual practice due to the absence of acid-producing bacteria in any part of the process, a standard for most dairy products. Halloumi’s high melting point means it can be easily fried or grilled, or served cold alongside freshly sliced watermelon; the perfect summer dinner.
Koupepia (stuffed vine leaves) and gemista
The Cypriot variety of the dolma uses minced meat, rice, onions, tomatoes and a mixture of herbs. This filling is then carefully wrapped in fresh vine leaves. A village favorite, this dish can be found commonly throughout Greece, Turkey and the Middle East. Koupepia are usually made in large batches and can be frozen to be enjoyed at a later time – the dish is in every Cypriot grandmother’s menu. The stuffing of vegetables, called gemista, is a Cypriot tradition which extends beyond vine leaves, with peppers, tomatoes, onions, courgettes and even courgette flowers often being cooked in this manner.
Souvlakia and sheftalia
A spin-off from the famous Greek dish, the Cypriot-style souvlaki consists of small chunks of charcoal-grilled meat on a skewer, and a large amount of fresh salad filling. It’s a very popular meal, as many locals catch up over a pitta of souvlakia. The pitta bread used is thinner and larger than the Greek version, and usually contains a pocket to hold the ingredients, rather than wrapping the filling in the Greek way.
The meat is commonly pork or chicken and can be accompanied by sheftalia. These are spiced sausage parcels with herbs, minced pork or lamb that are grilled. Alternatively, there are vegetarian options too, with mushroom and halloumi.
Similar in look to souvlaki but different in taste is souvla, comprising large chunks of meat slow-cooked on a large skewer over a charcoal barbeque, called foukou in Greek. The meat is neck and shoulder of either pork, lamb, or chicken. This food is seen as the king of meat dishes in Cypriot cuisine, as it’s very common that a group of friends gather to cook souvla, while drinking beer, snacking and chatting as it takes a good hour or two. It’s a popular meal eaten on Easter Sunday to celebrate the end of fasting and can be accompanied with a range of other dishes, usually potatoes and salads.
Kolokouthkia me ta afka (courgettes with eggs)
This dish often comes along with a dozen other mezze dishes, and consists of fried courgettes with scrambled eggs, sprinkled with salt. Most traditional eateries and restaurants serve this, and it’s considered to be a very simple and typically Cypriot dish to accompany any other main.
Makaronia tou fournou
Popularly known in Greece as pastitsio, the Cypriot version differs for its use of cheese, which is no other than halloumi, sprinkled with dry mint. Large pasta tubes, béchamel sauce and a tomato-y minced pork are the main ingredients used. Thin curls of cheese are often sprinkled on the top to give it a crispy crunch. The dish is usually prepared in a large oven pan. When served as a main dish, this Cypriot delicacy usually comes with a side of salad.
Ttavas means “clay pot”, referring to the receptacle in which it is customary to prepare and serve this traditional meal. Chunks of lamb, rice, vegetables and potatoes are cooked together in the pot, along with cumin which gives it a tangy flavour. Its origin can be traced back to Lefkara village, a place that holds a lot of cultural heritage due to its internationally-recognised lace.