Cypriot cuisine is a culture worthy of a separate description. Perhaps every country has its own one-of-a-kind traditional dishes that are cooked only there. In this regard, Cyprus is a unique mix of various dishes of completely different “nationality” that have become a part of one cultural heritage.
Many dishes – slightly or significantly changed – were brought here from Greek, Turkish, Lebanese, and English cuisine. Constant changes of government on the island spurred multiple changes in gastronomic priorities and preferences.
One of the most famous Cypriot dishes popular among both tourists and locals is halloumi cheese. It’s a cheese made from sheep’s milk that is usually fried. It can be chargrilled or just fried in a pan. If chargrilled, halloumi is sliced into thick pieces so that during roasting it would be covered with a crust while being steamed inside so, as a result, you get extremely tasty food that can be eaten both as a starter and a separate dish.
When fried in a pan, it is sliced thinly and fried in butter. Olive oil is not used for frying halloumi, because it makes the cheese taste bitter.
The cheese can also be baked in foil or even eaten raw. The locals love combining raw salty halloumi with a sweet watermelon. Fried cheese is also often served with watermelon, by the way. However, in summer, when it’s hot, Cypriots prefer eating watermelons with raw halloumi. It’s an incredibly good combination.
Photo: Bagel and Beagle
There’s one more recipe that is quite rare – steaming halloumi with sea salt. The cheese becomes very spongy, porous, and extremely delicious. Unfortunately, this dish is hard to find. Only a couple of local restaurants have it on the menu.
Halloumi is definitely a trademark of Cypriot cuisine. Just as feta is a trademark in Greece.
Wherever you go, – to a celebratory dinner or family picnic – halloumi is there. It can be used as a filling for pastry. For example, the recipe of tiropita came from Greece. Tiropita is a pie from spongy puff pastry and cheese. It can be a big pie cut into pieces or small turnovers filled with cheese and herbs.
Cypriots love pastry dishes dearly and bake different pies that can be small and large, filled with cheese, meat, or vegetables. Spinach buns are especially popular here. Cypriots often bake bread with olives, onions, and various herbs.
If you want to taste as many kinds of traditional Cypriot pastry food as possible and don’t want to search for it everywhere, you should consider visiting Zorpas, a local bakery chain. There’s always a great choice of different options. You can come here, buy lots of small pies with different fillings and try everything.
We can’t help mentioning that Greek gyros (also known as shawarma in other parts of the world) is widespread in Cyprus. Gyros is made from chopped meat, vegetables, generously seasoned with sauce and wrapped in pita. It’s a local type of fast food that can be found everywhere and is cooked very deliciously, as a rule.
One more popular kind of fast food is a kebab. Chicken, pork, beef kebabs are served in pita with vegetables. It’s a traditional fast recipe that is as popular as gyros. Fish dishes are much less widespread in Cyprus. There are a couple of places where great fish restaurants can be found, and that’s where people usually go to taste really well-cooked delicious fish. It’s unlikely to find good seafood restaurants in large cities, while there are quite a lot of them in Polis and Zygi, famous fish villages. Each of these villages has its own port, fishers, and unique traditions. So, preparing local fish at local restaurants is a real speciality.
It’s much easier with meat on the island. Meat of great quality can be found in many eateries. Only fresh meat is used here, and cooks are indeed skilled in preparing it, so it’s possible to try really tasty meat in a wide range of restaurants, even the plainest ones.
One of the traditional Cypriot meat dishes that is a must-try for those who visit the island for the first time is kleftiko. It’s often called “stolen meat”. It’s cooked in special stoves that are thoroughly heated before cooking so that the clay walls of a stove would take in enough heat.
After that, a pot with lamb and potato is put into the heated stove. The pot is covered with a lid tightly, and the meat simmers slowly during several hours. As a rule, the dish is started to be cooked early in the morning.
There are several explanations why kleftiko is “stolen meat”. According to one legend, thieves used to put the meat in the stove to cook in the morning and went away doing their business. They returned late in the evening, and the meat was ready by the time.
According to another legend, the name is explained in the following way: the herdsmen who stole livestock roasted the meat of the stolen sheep and goats in the pit so as not to attract attention.
The distinctive feature of the dish is that the potato sort of cooks in the lamb fat and soaks it up, while the meat itself gets so soft after the hours of simmering that it just melts in the mouth.
As a rule, kleftiko is served on Sundays in Cyprus and only in some restaurants. If the eatery cooks the dish, it usually has a sign on the front where something like “Kleftiko is cooked here” is written in large type. It’s started to be prepared at approximately 8 am, so the dish is ready by lunchtime. We definitely recommend trying it as the taste of such meat is very unique and can’t be compared to anything else. Kleftiko is one of the most remarkable dishes of Cypriot cuisine.
Another popular way of cooking meat in Cyprus is afelia. It’s pork with coriander cooked in red wine. The dish has an unusually dark colour (because of wine) and is widely eaten on the island. There’s perhaps no restaurant where afelia is not served.
In next publications: Cyprus wine, kebab, desserts, Christmas and Easter traditional treats.