Alex’s aunt sets the table for a Cypriot family dinner.
Editor’s Note: This week, the blog will be tagging along with fellow Cheapo Alex Christodoulides as she visits family in Cyprus.
Sure, the language spoken in Cyprus is Greek, but the accent is distinctive and so is the food. For one thing, Cyprus recently made its mark in the Guinness Book of World Records with a 41-meter sausage, dedicated in a big ceremony complete with traditional costumes in a town up in the Troodos Mountains.
Adventures in Cypriot Cuisine
The easiest way to get a handle on Cypriot cuisine – and a way to kill several hours trying to put away what looks like not much food – is to order meze, a selection of anywhere from a dozen to 20 hot and cold traditional dishes that most sit-down restaurants offer with little to no variety in the lineup.
First will be the dips, served with pita bread: among them tahini, made from ground sesame seeds and lemon juice, and taramosalata, made from fish roe and thickened with either a lemon-potato mixture or mayonnaise. Grilled halloumi cheese is always on the list somewhere, squeaking as you chew. There will also be meat dishes, leaning heavily on pork. Souvlaki will be among them, but so will hiromeri, a type of cured ham; loukanika, a pork sausage that is often grilled; and lountza, another ham-ish offering. For the pescatarians, there is fish meze, but vegetarians may have a hard time finding an acceptable version of the full menu.
Vegetarians will find that souvlaki joints don’t need to be off limits, since most offer grilled halloumi in place of the meat. Cypriots also eat a lot of veggies and legumes, and many restaurants offer a bean or lentil dish of the day.
Any serious restaurant in Cyprus will let you pick your fish when ordering.
A Cheapo-friendly pick in Nicosia
An inexpensive local favorite in Nicosia for vegetarian and carnivore-friendly homestyle cooking is Mattheos Restaurant, tucked unobtrusively in a corner of Plateia 28 Octobriou alongside the tiny Stavros tou Missirikou Church with its easy-to-spot minaret.
Coffee and dessert
To wake up after a big meal, there’s always coffee. There is not much love lost between Cyprus and Turkey, so locals call the brew Greek coffee or just order it by their preferred sweetness – glyko (sweet), metrio (one sugar) or sketo (black). For those who prefer their caffeine with milk, Italian-style coffee is very popular here, as is Nescafe, which is served hot, chilled or as a frothy iced frappe.
Most of Cyprus’ offerings to the sweet tooth will be familiar, but there are a few things that are typical to the island. Soujouko looks like a length of tan garden hose, but it’s made from dipping strings of almonds into thickened grape juice. Loukoumades are fried dough blobs served hot out of the oil and drizzled with honey, and are usually sold at small stands starting in the late afternoon, or at festivals. Shamishi is the same fried dough filled with a sort of cream made with semolina and flavored with mastic, which has a flavor slightly reminiscent of rosewater.
As you might expect in a hot climate, Cyprus produces its own ice cream. Three big companies, Papafilippou, Erakles and Pahit-Ice, have stores all over the country and a presence in the freezer cases at supermarkets.
Tomorrow: Heading to church
About the author: Alex Christodoulides is one of those push-me-pull-you creatures known as a dual citizen. When not at home in New York City (where she is a freelance writer) or in Cyprus (where she is a freeloader taking advantage of her relatives’ hospitality), she is probably dreaming of a trip to someplace where vaccinations are required and Fodor’s fears to tread.