I was lucky to have an amazing Cypriot cook as my mum. Although she moved to Australia when she was just 20 years old, she, like most Cypriot immigrants, held true to her roots and this was always most evident in her delicious, traditional Cypriot cooking!
Cypriot food can be summed up as simple, fresh, wholesome… and truly delicious. The cuisine is a mixture of Greek Mediterranean food with interesting elements of its middle eastern influence. When I am in Cyprus, there are certain dishes that I simply cannot leave Cyprus without having!
On my most recent trip to Cyprus, I had spent the day at Mckenzie Beach in Larnaka. It was a scorching hot day with temperatures of 40 degrees plus. As I was leaving the beach, the sight of a food vendor selling mahalepi was truly the most welcoming vision and just the right, refreshing treat to cool me down.
Mahalepi is the perfect treat after a day out on the beach. Originating from Persia and eaten throughout the Middle East, Greece and of course Cyprus, it is a chilled dessert that is made from corn flour, sugar, rosewater and rose cordial. As strange as the ingredients may sound to someone who has not tasted it, it is simply delicious and ever so sweet and refreshing. Mahalepi will have you feeling cooled down in no time, which is why it is an exclusively summer dessert!
You can find mahalepi at many Cypriot cafes and restaurants, often offered as a complimentary dessert to round off a big meal. When I get back home to Australia, I try and make my own following Georgina Haydens mahalepi recipe.
A trip to Cyprus is incomplete unless you have had souvla at a taverna (large chunks of pork, chicken or lamb roasted on a spit or bbq). In my experience, the best souvla is found in the traditional villages of Cyprus. Souvla is different to your typical souvlaki (small chunks of pork or chicken on thin skewers and served in pitta bread). The big chunks of meat are marinated with salt, olive oil and oregano and slow-cooked over charcoal for 1-3 hours. The smell, whilst cooking, is divine and fills the air on Sundays! The taste is incredible and instantly makes me feel like I am in Cyprus.
My favourite tavern to enjoy a Sunday souvla is VIKLARI, located in Peyia. The village of Peyia is around 14 km from Paphos town centre and on the southern end of the Akamas Peninsula. There is nothing fancy about VIKLARI. This is what makes it so special. The rustic atmosphere with stunning views over the forest and sea is simplicity at its best.
Your souvla meal comes with a Cypriot salad, fresh bread and homemade potatoes. Nothing fancy, but so delicious, and easily one of the best souvla meals I have ever had.
If I am lucky enough to be in Cyprus whilst there is a panagiri (a festival) in one of the villages, the one thing I absolutely love is the small bite-sized honey donuts called loukoumades.
There is always a stall of woman frying these delicious, sweet treats at each panagiri, and whilst you can also find them in some venues, they are predominately made and served at the panagiria. When you bite into a loukoumada you feel the soft, honey syprup-drenched donut melt in your mouth and the contrast of the cinnamon sprinkled on top.
Whilst we can buy loukoumdes in Australia from most Greek cake shops, there is something special about having them in Cyprus. I think it is the authentic atmosphere and setting of the way they are made at traditional festivals, and the passion of the vendors who have been making them for generations… either way, it is something I very much look forward to every time on the island.
The one Cypriot Food experience that you cannot miss when in Cyprus is partaking in a Cypriot ‘meze’. It is best enjoyed with at least one other person. However, the more, the merrier! A meze is similar to a tapas, with lots of small dishes of different foods to share amongst your table. This is the best way to taste Cypriot food as it will introduce you to many dishes in one meal. You can find meat meze, fish meze or a mixed meze (meat and some seafood).
Each meze starts with freshly baked bread, a Cypriot village salad and a variety of dips followed by another 15 or so dishes – depending on the tavern and what is in season.
Some of my favourites included in the meat meze are loukanika (grilled Cypriot sausage), keftedes (meatballs), souvlaki, beef stifado (slow cooked meat), and of course grilled Halloumi cheese.
To finish your experience, you are usually served glyko tou koutaliou (spoon sweet) which is a sweet fruit preserve that makes use of all parts of the fruit or vegetable. My favourite is watermelon which uses watermelon rind. It doesn’t sound great, but I promise you will be pleasantly surprised! Other traditional desserts or fresh fruit (usually watermelon) are also served as dessert – depending on the tavern and the time of year.
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