Discover what Cyprus food is really like and read my recommendations on the best Cyprus eats to order in a taverna or cooked with the freshest Cyprus produce in your holiday villa or apartment.I just LOVE Cypriot food and drink. And do you know why?
Well, it's because everything tastes so amazingly fresh over here. Plus everything is GIANT-sized in Cyprus...BIG tomatoes, BIG potatoes, even BIGGER celery, (it's sometimes about a metre...yes a METRE long including all the leaves) and positively ENORMOUS bunches of herbs, spinach, grapes and so much more. Check out some of my Cyprus recipes to see what I mean.
Tip: The word for BIG is "megalo" in Greek...most people seem to learn that one quite quickly...
And this is spinach if you don't believe me!
Greens or "Khorta", as they are known here, form a BIG part of the Cypriot diet as they are mixed with meat in stews and many dishes are vegetarian using dried beans and seasonal green vegetables.
While most of the big supermarkets are like big supermarkets the world over with sanitised rows of identically shaped fruit and vegetables, all conforming to a set standard, the friendly local fruit and veg market, known as Froutaria or Agora, has crates of fresh, differently shaped produce straight out of the fields that morning:
We just love the local co-operative farmers that produce so much tasty fruit and veg!
NB: Only the village tavernas tend to offer home-cooked vegetarian dishes. Sadly, most of the Cyprus food in the tourist and coastal areas is distinctly lacking in veggie options!
Our island's location at the far end of the Mediterranean means that Cyprus cuisine has been influenced by various countries, many of whom colonised the island at one time or another in the island's often turbulent past.
The proximity of Cyprus to the Middle East is shown in its heavy use of spices like coriander seeds and cumin together with fresh herbs of parsley and coriander, one of which will accompany almost every meal in one way or another.
These lush green herbs add a zest to village salads made with tomato, lettuce, olives, onion and cucumber or they liven up a plate of grilled meats.
Tip: Huge bunches of fresh herbs as well as spinach, rocket and Swiss chard cost peanuts at the Froutarias - only 35 cents for a bunch.
Grilled meat forms a large part of the Cypriot diet, especially pork which is very cheap to buy here on the island.
The best Cyprus food is usually served at the village tavernas away from the coast, but all tavernas serve the standard traditional Cyprus dishes. Here are my recommendations on the best Cyprus dishes to try.
Cyprus Meze - either meat or fish based.
Cyprus Meat Meze
Meze means "delicacy" and is famous all over Cyprus - a great way to try lots of different dishes before you commit to ordering something you may not be sure about as a main course.
In a Cyprus meat meze expect to sample various dips like "tahini" made from sesame seeds or "tzatziki" made from yoghurt, garlic, herbs and lemon juice plus my favourite hummus, made from chick peas and tahini.
Then you will find "sheftalia," a herb filled mince meat sausage and "souvlakia" - a grilled pork kebab. Most mezes include a few vegetarian dishes like eggs fried with courgettes, but save room for the grilled meat platter at the end - a mix of pork, chicken and sometimes lamb.
But be warned, some mezes are positively ENORMOUS so go easy on the dips which which tend to fill you up before you get anywhere near the grilled meats or fish.
Other traditional Cyprus dishes to try include:
Afelia - pork cooked with dried crushed coriander and fresh herbs.
Stifado - a rich beef stew with baby onions and vinegar, usually cooked in red wine.
Mousakka - a dish that originated in Greece, but is popular here too.
Coastal towns and villages will always have fish on the menu and "calamari" (squid) is always a favourite, lightly battered and quickly deep fried...with a squeeze of lemon it is simply delicious.
Calamari - deep fried
It is a little ironic that in the peak summer months, many of the fish restaurants in smaller towns run out of fresh lemon as it isn't the "season" for it. You may, however, be served what most people think are limes with their fish meal - these are actually green lemons picked early!
In the high mountain villages, of course, you will not often get fresh fish but you will be enticed to pull over when you catch the mouthwatering aroma of "Souvla" smouldering away on an outdoor B-B-Q. Souvla are BIG pieces of pork as opposed to "souvlaki" which means little pieces - adding "aki" to the end of a word makes it a small version of...
Even vegetarians will probably drool over the smell!
SIMPLICITY is basically the key to all great Cyprus food, the best of which will cost only a few Euros and be washed down with a glass of local wine (okay, so not all of it is very good unless you know what to order - see my secret Cyprus wine guide for more details).
After eating out in Cyprus you can relax with a Cypriot coffee, which is almost always on the house, and be astonished that you have spent 3-4 hours over your Cyprus food main meal.
Tip: Cypriot coffee can be a bit of an acquired taste which is why you will be asked if you really mean Cypriot coffee rather than a "Nes"(cafe).
Tip no 1: Order a "Metrio" for slightly sweet coffee, "Glyko" if you like a lot of sugar or a "Sketto" if you like your coffee "neat".
Tip no 2: Don't drink ALL the coffee -the bottom is filled with a thick sludge which will taste very bitter! If you forget, grab the glass of water that always accompanies your coffee and drink it quickly!
If you have visited Cyprus and not experienced the wonders of real Cyprus food, then you have probably been trapped in the main tourist resorts where the "fast" food there bears no resemblance to the real thing.
By the way, we do get chips in our little corner of Cyprus but this type of Cyprus food is known locally as Argaka potatoes (where the best spuds are grown.
Development and commercial tourism are starting to encroach on even our lovely little corner of the island, but we still have acres of vegetable fields and swathes of orange groves. Come and see our special, unspoilt, north western corner of the island in Polis Chrysochous and sample the REAL Cyprus food there before it loses its current rustic charm.
Update June 2020 - I recommend Kathikas and Neo Chorio Villages, 15 minutes away from the coast to sample authentic home-cooked Cyriot cuisine. If you don't have a car, Moustakalis taverna in Polis offers traditional Cyprus dishes too.