Island Food: A taste of Cyprus cuisine

One of the questions we always get asked when we return home from our holidays is about the food. What was it like? What kind of dishes did you eat? What were the flavours? What were the dishes called? Do you have photos of the traditional food? By the end of your trip, you will be able to describe every single bite of the following traditional dishes, delights, pastries, sweets and drinks.

Halloumi – halloumi is to Cyprus what pizza is to Italy, in that it is synonymous with the island. It is a white cheese made with goat’s and sheep’s milk. It is often fried or grilled, eaten in sandwiches or with watermelon. If you choose just one thing to try while on holiday, make it halloumi.

Souvlakia and Sheftalia – if you want to eat like the locals, get some souvlakia and sheftalia served with salad inside a pitta bread. Souvlakia is small pieces of pork or chicken cooked on the barbeque. Souvlakia’s best friend, sheftalia, is made of minced pork or lamb, flavoured with herbs and onion, and wrapped in caul fat in an oval shape and cooked on the grill .

Meze – before you go to a local tavern to eat meze (small dishes) make sure you are hungry and you are wearing loose clothing because it will truly be a feast. When you order meze, you are basically sampling local dips and dishes. The sitting normally starts light with a village salad, dips and grilled vegetables. The middle may include village pasta and a wheat based dish called pilafi, then come a variety of  meat dishes. For dessert there maybe some local sweets or seasonal fruit. If you are by the sea, you can also try a fish meze.

Makaronia tou Fournou and Moussaka – these two dishes are very similar because they are both created with layers of ingredients. Makaronia tou Fournou is made with a layer of pasta, mincemeat cooked together with lots of spices, chopped tomatoes and parsley, and then topped off with béchamel sauce and grated halloumi cheese. At the base of the Mousakka pyramid you will find slices of potato. Eggplant, mincemeat cooked roughly in the same way as in Makaronia tou Fournou, and béchamel sauce complete the dish.  

Koupepia – the idea of eating vine leaves may not appeal to some people, but once you have tried koupepia, which is a mixture of minced meat and rice wrapped in these leaves, you will want to eat more.

Stifado – a beef stew in tomato sauce accompanied by onions. Get a slice of traditional bread and dip it in its sauce, just like the locals do.

Afelia – a meat dish made with pieces of pork, marinated in red wine and cooked with coriander seeds.

Kleftiko – a very traditional dish made with lamb and onions, slowly cooked with bay leaves and spices, within tinfoil. This dish takes its name from thieves who used to steal animals and cook them in underground ovens. It is traditionally cooked in clay ovens.

Baklava – the Cypriot kitchen also serves many sweet pastry desserts. The most famous of them all is baklava, which is a flaky pastry filled with chopped nuts, stirred with spices, and brought together with syrup.

Zivania – Zivania is literally the spirit of Cyprus, as it is a spirit that contains a very high level of alcohol. This strong drink is served chilled in shot glasses and has helped to keep many locals warm in winter.