There’s something about Cyprus food that’ll keep you coming back for more. The island has rich culinary traditions, with subtle hints of various traditional cuisines.
A combination of the exotic flavors and aromas of Greek, Turkish, and Middle Eastern cuisines will please your senses when dining on the island.
The local food is clean and fresh, yet warm and hearty. Every flavor is unique, but somehow it tastes like home.
The Cornerstones of Cyprus Cuisine
Traditional Cyprus food can be characterized as a Mediterranean diet, which is known for its healthy ingredients.
The locals in Cyprus flavor their food with freshly sourced ingredients that are not only delicious but also good for the heart. These ingredients include olive oil, freshly grown herbs, fruits and vegetables, lean meat, and pulses.
Meze: The Art of Small Plates
Meze has become a popular serving option at events but they remain a favorite amongst Cypriot locals.
Cypriot Meze consists of various small plates and servings of different food types and you can serve it as an appetizer, starter, or even as a main meal.
In Cyprus, a traditional Meze platter is similar to Spanish tapas and it typically has 5 to 20 dishes, including Ouzo, Arak, pita bread, and assorted dips, like tzatziki and hummus.
The Meat of the Matter: Popular Non-Vegetarian Dishes
The Cypriot locals are no different from the rest of the world when it comes to their love for meat.
They serve many different hearty meals with meat at their gatherings and celebrations.
Here are some non-vegetarian meals that you should try in Cyprus:
Souvla (not Souvlaki) is a Cypriot adaptation of the Greek delicacy. Large chunks of lamb, chicken, or pork get roasted over an open fire or charcoal barbeque.
However, before the big roast at a gathering, the meat gets spiced and marinated with a combination of black pepper, coriander, oregano, parsley, and onion.
These traditional Cypriot kebabs are made into sausages by using caul fat.
They get stuffed with minced meat mixed with finely chopped onions, salt and pepper, and parsley. The final step is cooking or frying the kebabs to perfection.
Kleftiko, a delicious hearty slow-cooked lamb stew, incorporates Greek culture and tradition.
Not only is the lamb cooked for more than four hours but it is also left in the fridge overnight to take in the juicy marinade made with bay leaves, salt, pepper, lemon, garlic, and other herbs.
Vegging Out: Vegetarian Delights in Cyprus
You don’t have to cancel your visit to Cyprus if you’re a vegetarian and you don’t have to stick to eating fruit either. There are many vegetarian dishes that’ll prickle your tastebuds, like the following:
Moussaka, another meal synonymous with Greek cuisine, is traditionally made with minced meat, potato, and eggplant (aubergine).
You can ask for a meatless version and it can also be made with other vegetables but in the end, it’s the layer of béchamel sauce that finishes the masterpiece.
Germista translates to stuffed in Greek, which is exactly what this meal is. There are various ways to enjoy this culinary delight and the locals have unique ways of preparing it.
However, when you order it you can expect peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, or eggplant stuffed with cooked rice and a mixture of spices. The non-vegetarian option is stuffed with minced meat and spices.
One thing you should know about Cypriot cuisine is that you don’t get between a Cypriot local and their fried halloumi cheese.
The cheese, a mixture of goat and sheep milk, doesn’t melt easily and it’s perfect for a fry-and-enjoy meal.
Seafood by the Seaside: What to Expect
While lamb and other red meats are very important in Cypriot cuisine, you shouldn’t be surprised if you get served a delicious seafood dish in Cyprus.
These dishes typically include:
- Cypriot-style calamari served with tzatziki or a fresh green salad
- Crispy whitebait
- A fish Meze, which includes many types of seafood dishes
Sip and Savor: Cypriot Drinks to Try
There’s no need to stay thirsty when enjoying your Cyprus food because the island has many traditional drinks, from alcoholic beverages to coffee. Here are some options:
Commandaria is a dessert wine with a high alcohol content, so be careful because it’s hard to stop drinking this sweet beverage.
Zivania, a pomate brandy, is just as high in alcohol, which is why it’s also known as firewater. It’s made by distilling grape pomace and other dry wines.
Traditional Cypriot coffee is made by brewing Brazillian coffee beans in copper pots. You’ll get your coffee in a small cup and there’s a thick layer at the bottom that you shouldn’t drink.
Once you’re done, turn your cup upside down and let it dry to have your future interpreted by a traditional fortune teller.
The Sweet Finish: Cypriot Desserts
While most locals prefer their home-cooked meals with lamb and spices, desserts form a large part of Cypriot cuisine. Here are some sweet delights that you can enjoy in Cyprus:
This traditional Middle-Eastern dessert is the perfect ending to a delicious plate of Cyprus food. It is prepared by layering honey and chopped nuts between multiple sheets of phyllo pastry.
If you’re ever in the mood for a doughy delight in Cyprus, this is without a doubt the dessert that you should try. Loukoumades are prepared by soaking deep-fried dough balls in syrup or honey before coating them in crushed nuts or cinnamon.
This Middle-Eastern dessert is made by cooking nisiaste powder (ground sundried corn kernels) until it reaches a thick consistency. Then, the mixture is left to set overnight. You’ll get to enjoy it as a cool dessert the next day when they pour water, rosewater, and sugar over the nisiaste.
The Fusion Factor: Modern Takes on Traditional Dishes
Since the traditional flavors of Cyprus food deserve to be introduced to the rest of the world, contemporary chefs are creating their own recipes influenced by the recipes of Cypriot meals. Here are some modernized examples:
In Cyprus, Halloumi cheese is enjoyed as is and there’s no need to add it to other dishes. However, chefs are now using this popular cheese in salads and desserts.
Traditional Meze is known for its display of many traditional Cypriot dishes. Today, chefs are sticking to the concept of Meze but they are adding other food options, like stuffed phyllo pastries.
This traditional dessert is a classic in Cyprus but chefs are now bringing Commandaria wine into the mix. Instead of the regular recipe, they are now coated with a syrup infused with this popular wine and instead of nuts or cinnamon, they get a coating of grated halloumi.
Eating Like a Local: Etiquette and Dining Customs
There are a few things that you should remember when dining in Cyprus.
Here are some dining customs and etiquette to know before you eat with a Cypriot local:
Dining at someone’s house
- If you’re invited to a meal at a local’s house, you should dress casually but don’t overdo it.
- Remember to shake the hands of every person at the dinner when you arrive.
- Lastly, ask the hostess if you could help with anything and compliment her house.
General table etiquette
- Don’t sit until you are invited to sit and wait until the hostess starts eating before you dig in.
- Hold your fork in your left hand and your knife in the right and use your utensils to indicate whether you are done or still eating.
- However, it’s considered good manners to eat everything on your plate.
- When someone asks you to pass a dish, use your right hand.
Conclusion: Your Culinary Passport to Cyprus
While Cypriot cuisine incorporates Greek and Middle-Eastern flavors, there’s nothing like it. Traditional Cyprus food has everything from hearty meat dishes to delicious vegetarian meals.
For the sweet tooth, they even have unique desserts that you just have to try.
So, the next time you’re in Cyprus, don’t order your regular hamburger and chips because there are hundreds of traditional dishes waiting to be tried.