Cypriot kebab (souvlaki and souvla)
Souvlaki is a kebab from small pieces of meat (pork or chicken) that are, as a rule, cooked and served on wooden skewers. Souvlaki is one of the most popular traditional Cypriot recipes, and it can be tasted literally everywhere – from fast-food stalls to luxury fashionable restaurants.
The type of a kebab that is much less common is souvla. While souvlaki is prepared from small pieces of pork or poultry, souvla is cooked from huge lamb chunks that are the size of a man’s fist. The pieces on the bone covered with a thin layer of fat are usually taken to prepare the dish. The fat melts first and creates sort of a bag in which the meat is steamed. After the fat is completely gone, the half-ready steamed meat is roasted on the outside. As a result, you get a kind of roasted ’n’ steamed meat that is inexpressibly delicious.
Souvla is rarely prepared in Cyprus, because it’s rather long and complicated to cook such meat. The dish is most often made and eaten on the weekend when families come together. For example, it’s often present at traditional family picnics in the open air that we told you about in one of our articles about the Troodos Mountains.
Besides souvlaki, there’s one more type of fast and tasty meat food in Cyprus – sheftalia. It’s meatballs from ground pork or ground pork with ground lamb seasoned with spices. The mix of ground meat and herbs is wrapped in caul fat – just like meat fillings are wrapped in cabbage leaves to make cabbage rolls – and grilled or charcoaled on skewers. It’s a popular and easy-to-cook dish.
Many shops sell convenience sheftalia that only needs to be roasted, which is very convenient if you go on a picnic, for instance. Traditional sheftalia can be found almost in all restaurants. The restaurants and cafes also often offer a mix of souvlaki and sheftalia with a vegetable side dish.
Dolmades is a recipe rooted in Turkish cuisine. It’s meat rolled in vine leaves. Simply put, it’s dolma, that is ground meat with rice wrapped in vine leaves prepared in a special way.
There are also a vegetarian variant of the dish, where ground meat is replaced with ground vegetables, and fish dolmades, where ground fish or just pieces of fish are wrapped in leaves.
The Cypriot dainty that most tourists will find quite peculiar is kefalakia. It’s a lamb’s head seasoned with sauce and baked. It’s certainly tasty but not everyone will dare to try the dish as heads are served as they are, that is with eyes, carefully laid on a side dish, e.g. pilaf.
Pilaf is crushed wheat (bulgur) mixed with fine vermicelli and spices. Cypriots love pilaf and are good at cooking it. It’s usually used as a side dish for meat dishes. We’d recommend trying it with sheep’s milk yogurt.
Fish and seafood
As we’ve already mentioned, fish is less popular among Cypriots than meat. It’s because fishing is not done along the whole coastline of the island, but concentrated only in several towns. Furthermore, the waters of Cyprus are not particularly rich in fish. The mountain areas of the island have lots of fish farms where trout and other freshwater fish are raised. The trout delivered to the riverside restaurants mostly originate from there. It’s always fresh and extremely tasty, but quite pricey. However, if you want to try really delicious trout, you’d better go to specialized fish taverns or restaurants. There are few of them on the island, and they are usually situated in the area where fish are raised and caught.
Seafood such as squid or octopus is very popular in Cyprus. There are myriads of octopuses here, and they can be caught right from the sea. They are usually cut into pieces, grilled, and served with a vegetable side dish and unleavened bread.