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A guide to Cypriot cuisine

Cyprus cuisine does not differ significantly from Greek food and, just like the language, is very similar.  Standard daily food is nearly the same — the same stuffed vegetables, the same stuffed vine leaves (which we call koupepia), the same vegetables in tomato sauce – with or without lamb – the same lemon-flavoured dishes, the same roast. Boiled chicken is usually accompanied by avgolemono soup or with macaroni cooked in its broth.
Sunday’s roast is lamb with potatoes and beans with tomato sauce and the fasolada is … fasolada. Kleftiko lamb is also known as “exohiko” country lamb elsewhere in the Greek world, but if you exclude the fact that we do not put feta as in Greece, it is usually the same thing.
Basically the same glyka tou koutaliou (fruit and small vegetables in syrup) are to be found lined up in the cupboard. Meat balls look like soutzoukakia in shape, similar to small sausages, except for the small meat balls served as a meze, which are round, wherever they are served. Besides mince, the ingredients are grated crumbs of stale bread (which is the classic Greek recipe for all meatballs) and grated potato. They are flavoured with the usual seasoning, but also a little cinnamon. Cyprus kebabs are usually pork, but sometimes lamb. They are not grilled on sticks but on skewers known as smiles (needles) because, in the past, they were also used for knitting and are served in a larger pitta bread than the Greek kind, with salad (tomato, cucumber and onion) lots of finely chopped parsley, lemon and pickled vegetables. They are always accompanied with yoghurt – not tzatziki (also called talatouri here) but which is not put in the pita. Fresh black eyed beans are called louvia. They are very popular in summer, boiled with large marrows, and served with olive oil and lemon. Dry black eyed beans, also called louvia, are popular in winter, boiled with chard (broad, flat, green leaves) and served with olive oil and lemon.
Patsia soup is a soup for night birds. In Cyprus it is made with lamb head and sometimes lamb feet. The Savoro fish (cold dish) does not have tomato, but rosemary is essential. The Greek “pichti with gelatine” – known as zalatina here, is usually made with a pig’s head and trotters and flavoured with Seville orange peel. Trachanas is made of sour milk and coarsely pounded wheat, and not with semolina as in most regions of Greece. In its final, dried version it looks like white soutzoukakia (meat balls) and when made into soup, is served with small cubes of halloumi.
Halloumi is Cyprus’ basic cheese. Making it is simple. The sheep or goat cheese is churned with rennet, the curds are collected in metal frames, left to drain, kneaded and shaped into small pies which are boiled again in the whey milk. It is then salted, sprinkled with mint and folded into two. Fresh halloumi is soft, but when left to mature in salted serum hardens, which experts say is how good halloumi should be. This hard halloumi is ideal for saganaki (here known as fried halloumi) or for grilling or grating. Before boiling the halloumi in the whey again, more milk is added and the curd or cream is collected and made into mizithra or anari as it is known here. which is drained in little mesh baskets.
Fresh anari, with sugar and flavoured with cinnamon is used as a filling for sweet bourekia (pastries).There is also salted, fresh anari, a light soft cheese which can also be strained and dried in the sun to make a hard cheese which is used exclusively as grated cheese for pasta.
Ravioles are the name for Cypriot ravioli made with a filling of halloumi, egg and mint – a little like small bourekia They are boiled in chicken stock and served with grated halloumi or grated dry anari.
Kolokassi (taro) is one of the strangest Cypriot products. Although many Cypriots believe that it is unique to the island, in fact ‘colocasiaesculenta’ or taro was the staple food of the people of Hawaii when Captain Cook reached there in 1778. Botanists mistakenly gave it the name when they came across it in Polynesia because they thought in the beginning that it was kind of lotus, similar to that in Egypt that is so abundant on the shores of the Nile and the root of which the ancient Greek botanist and doctor Dioskourides called “Kolocasion”. The Latin term for this was Colocasia. How it travelled and came to flourish in Cyprus is unknown. This root resembles a potato, is cooked usually with pork, tomato and celery or as a Cypriot casserole, with red wine and dry coriander. The smaller, more tender roots known as poulles are fried whole, like fried potatoes.
Besides the well-known bourekia, cheese pies and spinach pies, another local delicacy is kolokotes (usually in the Lenten period because they are vegan). These are small, one-serving pies made with finely chopped pumpkin, bulgar wheat  (pourgouri) onion, cinnamon, salt and lots of pepper. Pepper here is called artimata from the classical Greek word meaning to season. In the past, before they were displaced by pepper, artimata were the fruit of an indigenous tree known as artimathkia – that produced small, pink seeds, the well known pink pepper. Moungra is a type of pickled cauliflower made with yeast and flavoured with mustard seeds and very popular in the Lenten period. Another Lenten favourite are olive pies, small bread rolls kneaded with orange juice, black olives and onion.
Absolutely essential at Easter are flaounes, triangular or square cheese pies, filled with Paphos cheese (a type of fresh hard cheese), usually mixed with halloumi and eggs, small raisins and mint. In the past, small cannabis seeds were also an essential ingredient, but for obvious reasons they are now sold roasted.
Lentils here are made into a vinegary vegetable soup with fresh coriander or moutzendra with rice and sautéed slices of onion, probably an Arab influence because a similar dish is served in many countries in the Middle East. Another Arab influence is humous, a chickpea salad with tahini.
Tavas takes its name from the ovenware in which it is made – a clay pot with a lid. It is made of pieces of lamb or pork cooked slowly in the oven with tomato and onion, and sometimes flavoured with cumin. In Cyprus cumin is called artisia because it seasons the food.
Finally, a few words about sheftalia: Minced pork with finely chopped parsley and onion that is moulded like soutzoukakia (meat balls), wrapped in suet (known here as pana) grilled and served with kebabs.
A significant difference from Greek food is the wide use of coriander and red wine. This dates back to the days when there were no refrigerators or freezers in Cyprus, and wine was seen as a very good way of conserving meat, since, when covered with wine it would not go bad. Coriander seeds were added for extra aroma. This aromatic plant is a fundamental element of Cypriot cooking either fresh, as a salad, or as seeds. It is with coriander, too, that fragrance is added to green olives.
Afelia is a typical example of a food that uses wine and coriander: pork cut in pieces, marinated in lots of wine and coriander which is then cooked in its marinade with the addition of oil. When the wine evaporates, the food is ready. Nowadays, many people fry the meat, then add the wine and coriander. This is not the traditional way, but it is how mushrooms are cooked – fried, then covered in wine and spiced with coriander.
Cypriot-style potatoes (antinahtes) are also cooked in this way. Here small, unpeeled fresh potatoes are beaten (hit once to break open) and then cooked.
Cyprus sausages are made of finely chopped pork that is marinated in wine, coriander and other spices and herbs for days and then dried and smoked. Also made in the same way is lountza, the pork fillets marinated in wine and coriander that are then strained and smoked, and the famous Cyprus hiromeri, also marinated for many days in wine and coriander, then pressed so as to drain well, and then smoked. Other salt meats are tsamarella, from cured goat meat flavoured with oregano and posirti, cured bacon marinated in wine.
By Nina Theocharidou

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