With emphasis on fresh local ingredients, a pungent mix of herbs and spices and a light spattering of olive oil, Cypriot food is essentially Mediterranean, similar to that of Greece and with a hint of the Middle East and Asia Minor.
Both poets and travellers past have praised the flavours of the island. In present times doctors and health specialists have added their voices in extolling the virtues of the Mediterranean diet. The grains and pulses, sun-ripened fresh fruit and vegetables, high-protein fish, lean meat and poultry, olive oil and wine are both a healthy option as well as an irresistible temptation.
In a society of extended families with close ties, it is not surprising that home cooking is an important feature of everyday life, with recipes passed down through the generations. Having a hearty meal in the company of friends and family is what it’s all about. No wonder that hospitality and conviviality are deeply ingrained in the Cypriot psyche, so much so that pleasing has become a fine art. So give free reign to your taste buds and indulge in a culinary feast.
Products and Recipes
Get to the heart of Cypriot culture by exploring its delicious cuisine, an exotic blend of Greek and Middle Eastern dishes.
Start your culinary adventure by ordering ‘mezedes’ at a restaurant where you will be faced with a lavish feast of all the local delicacies but make sure you pace yourself for the 20 or more dishes that will arrive.
Be sure to try Cyprus’ famous ‘halloumi’ cheese made from sheep and goat’s milk. You can have it in all kinds of different ways, from grilled to fried or on its own, and in the summer you must try it with watermelon, for an unusual combination of flavours.
Do as the locals do by dipping a slice of village bread into a bowl of cracked green olives with coriander seeds and don’t try to say no to a wickedly sweet ‘glyko’, preserved fruit accompanied by a glass of cold water.
Halloumi Cheese in Butter
2 cups oil
0.5 tsp baking powder
180gr water or milk
Cut the halloumi into thick slices.
Make batter with flour, baking powder, salt, water or milk and eggs.
Dip the halloumi first in the flour and then in the batter and fry in hot oil.
For centuries, Cypriots have accompanied their drinks with meze – a large selection of delicacies consisting of many dishes with small helpings of delicious foods.Meze are a traditional feature of religious feast days, birthdays, weddings and name days. Feasting usually means endless eating, singing and joking, accompanied by wine and zivania, a strong spirit similar to vodka.
Served all over Cyprus,mezedes cover a broad range of some the best of local cuisine and can include up to 30 dishes. The feast begins with black and green olives, tahini,skordalia (potato and garlic dip), taramosalata(fish roe dip), and tsatziki, all served with a basket of fresh bread and a bowl of village salad. Some of the more unusual meze dishes that may be served include octopus in red wine, snails in tomato sauce, brains with pickled capers, kappari (capers) and moungra (pickled cauliflower). Bunches of greens, some raw, some dressed with lemon juice and salt, are a basic feature of the meze table. The meal continues with fish, grilled halloumi cheese,lountza (smoked pork fillet), keftedes (minced meatballs), sheftalia (pork rissoles)and loukanika (sausages).
It is then the turn of kebabs, lamb chops and chicken. The last dish to be served is fruit or the traditional preserved fruit glyko.Glyko is found in every home and is the first thing to be offered to a guest together with a glass of water.
Cypriot women continue to make glyko in the traditional way handed down from generation to generation and serve it with great pride.
Flaouna, a traditional pastry unique to Cyprus, was customarily baked especially for Easter. Both the size and taste may vary. Offered during parties and social events, flaouna is prepared in different ways across the island, ranging from salty, to semi sweet or sweet. Another way of making flaouna is with anari cheese.
50 pieces watermelon rind
1 cup lime
3 kg. sugar
3 cups water
(Glyko is a fruit preserve)
Peel the rind on both sides leaving only the white part.
Cut into square pieces.
Place the watermelon pieces in a bowl with water and lime for 2 hours.
Rinse very well under running water.
Boil the watermelon in a casserole until cooked.
Drain and place in water and lemon juice for 2-3 hours.
Drain and boil in the casserole with sugar, water and lemon juice till cooked.
At the end add the vanilla.
Store in sterilised jars when cold.
Wash it all down with one of the local beers or wines. Cyprus has a long tradition in winemaking that goes back over 4,000 years. In ancient times wine was a major source of wealth for the island. The island supplied the Pharaohs of Egypt and Cyprus wines were in great demand amongst the ancient Greeks and Romans. One very old sweet wine, Commandaria, is acknowledged to be one of the oldest named wines in the world, which according to legend, was originally made for Richard the Lionheart and the Crusaders. Zivania, Cyprus famous firewater, made from highly-distilled grape juice, is almost pure alcohol and packs a neat punch.
For a healthy drink try a freshly squeezed fruit juice from the plethora of fresh fruit available on the island. ‘Airani’ made with live yogurt is incredibly refreshing, perfect for hot summer days, while ‘soumada’ is a warm comforting almond drink served with hot water.
At any opportunity order a Cyprus coffee, especially when whiling away the time playing a game of backgammon. This strong coffee is ordered ‘sketo’ (no sugar), ‘metrio’ (medium) or ‘glyko’ (sweet) and always served with a glass of cold water.
Unlike most kinds of coffee served in Europe, Cyprus coffee is brewed in small, long handled pots, wide at the base and tapering at the top called “mbrikia” which were traditionally made of copper. The coffee is made from fresh, finely ground coffee beans, usually Brazilian.
One heaped teaspoon of coffee is added to each demitasse of cold water. The sugar is added while the water is still cold. The amount depends on whether you want your coffee sweet “glykis”, medium “metrios”,or unsweetened “sketos”.
The “mbrikia” are heated on the stove or in small trays filled with heated sand that transfers the heat in a more uniform and smooth manner. When the sugar has dissolved, the coffee is allowed to come to the boil, forming a creamy froth known as “kaimaki” on top. As the froth turns in from the sides, the coffee begins to rise and the pot is removed from the heat.
Cyprus coffee is served in small cups and is customarily accompanied with a glass of cold water.
The coffee is strong and it is sipped slowly. The thick layer at the bottom of the cup should not be drunk, though it does have a use for fortune-tellers who ‘interpret’ the dried patterns left behind. After finishing the coffee, the cup is turned upside down onto a small plate and left there for a few minutes to dry. It is then turned around again and the patterns left behind are claimed to reveal something about the person’s future. At least that’s what those who explain the patterns say.
The production of Zivania, one of Cyprus’s traditional alcoholic drinks, dates back to the end of the 14th century.
Zivania is produced by distilling pressed grape residues in special stills or cauldrons using a simple, age-old tradition passed proudly from generation to generation in the island’s wine villages. The traditional technique helps to separate ethanol from zivania’s distinctive aromatic ingredients.Truly a drink for the brave, the alcohol content of this white spirit can range from 40% to 99%. It usually accompanies a good meal such as mezedes or is served with dried fruit and nuts, and is best enjoyed in good company.
The wines of Cyprus date back to ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian times. Enjoyed in abundance since the days of antiquity, Cyprus wines have been of great importance to local life through the ages. Testifying to their importance is the recent discovery in Pafos of old coins depicting a vine on one side, evidence that wine was a major source of the island’s wealth. There is further proof of their significance in the portray also the first wine makers making merry across the mosaics floors in Pafos at the House of Dionysus, the god of wine.
In the Middle Ages the famous Commandaria wines were enjoyed by travelers to the Holy Land, while in the 19th century, wines were sold in goat skins. The proliferation of new wineries in the last few decades shows Cypriots remain true to their proud wine making tradition.The art of making wine was very well known in Cyprus well before the accounts of Greek geographer Strabo around the time of Christ. Botanical remains confirming the presence of vines on the island have been found at Neolithic and Chalcolithic archaeological sites in Cyprus.
The main wine growing area lies on the southern slopes of the Troodos Mountains, high up where the sun shines clear and hot. Visitors can sample the local wines at various locations, including villages, monasteries and various small wineries.
The classic grapes of Cyprus are the Mavro, Xinisteri, Opthalmo and Muscat varieties. These produce rich, vigorous, strong wines. Due to a concerted effort to broaden the range of local wines, more delicate, fruity, mellow wines made from European strains such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Grenache and Palomino are also available.
1cl Rose syrup
1cl Damson rosewater
1 Watermelon slice
4 cl Red grapefruit juice
1 Tablespoon azerole jam
Mash the watermelon slice in the shaker together with the azerole jam using a pestle. Fill the shaker with ice, add the KEO zivania, the rose syrup, the rosewater and the grapefruit juice. Shake until all ingredients are chilled and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with watermelon and halloumi cheese.
Did you know that Watermelon Martini– created by Kostas Nikolaides – won 2nd prize in the Cypriot authentic cocktail competition 2011 and 1st prize for best garnish?