It is said civilization starts on the table, which therefore makes Cyprus amongst the most civilized countries of the Mediterranean. The Cypriots instinctively know what is important to good living so eating and drinking well are always high on their agenda.
Although international cuisine is widely available in Cyprus, the tavernas and best restaurants delight in serving classic Cypriot dishes that have been enjoyed here over the centuries. Like everything in Cyprus, religion is split. The northerners are mostly Muslim and the southerners are Greek Orthodox. This religious split brings about cultural differences and food, too, reflects the divide. In the north you will find more Turkish cooking, while in the south the food will be of Greek origin.
However, wherever you are in Cyprus, you will come across some duplicate south eastern Mediterranean dishes, such as Kleftiko (baked lamb) and mezes (dip appetizers).
As with most typical Mediterranean food, recipes are based on locally grown produce, namely root vegetables, citrus fruits, fresh fish, vine leaves, cheese, olives, aromatic spices and fresh herbs such as coriander.
Cyprus also produces its own very palatable wines, lager and fruit juices to accompany its gastronomic delights.
Typical to Eastern style cooking, the Meze is a Cypriot variation consisting of up to 20 dip-like dishes. It is a sharing, sociable custom, eaten as a starter where everyone dips into the same dishes.
A Meze will feature cheeses such as halloumi, kaskavalli or feta, tomatoes, olives, celery, artichokes, smoked ham, houmous, fish roe (taramosalata), sesame dip (tahini), octopus, prawns, mullet (barbouni), chicken, green peppers, seftalia sausages and stuffed vine leaves (koupepia). This is eaten with bread, often dipped into the individual delicacies.
The Main Course
Moussaka: layers of minced beef or lamb, sliced potatoes, eggplant and courgettes, topped with a delicious white sauce
Tavas: veal, onions and herbs served in small earthenware dishes straight from the oven
Suflakia: kebabs with lamp or pork and cooked on a slow charcoal fire. It is eaten with chopped onions, salt and pepper in a flat pitta bread served with a yogurt based dip, Telattouri.
Raviolis: similar to the Italian Ravioli pasta dish
Avgolemoni: egg and lemon soup
Patcha: lamb stew served with lemon
Keftedes: spiced meat balls
Koupes: fried meat rissoles enclosed in pastry
Kleftiko: lamb roasted in a traditional oven
Fasolada: bean dish
Afelia: pork in a wine and coriander sauce
Zalatina: highly seasoned brawn
Smoked Cyprus sausages flavoured with pepper or laurel
Game, including partridge, hare and pheasant
Koupes, pourekia, kattimeria: thin semolina paste delicacies filled with meat, almonds or eggs and cheese
Fresh Fruit abounds in Cyprus and it often follows a good meal. Typical fruits are oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, melons, lemons, apples, pears, cherries, apricots, figs, pomegranates, bananas, purple plumbs, grapes, dates, almonds and walnuts. All fruits on the island are locally grown and protected by law against imports.
Souzoukko: a favorite at Cyprus festivals and fairs, it is made by dipping strings of nuts in heated grape juice until the confection solidifies
Glyko: preserves of almond, date, apricot, cherry, quince or grapes, always served with a glass of cold water
Loucoumi: or Turkish delight
Loukoumades: similar to doughnuts with honey
Kadeifi, Baklava and Galatopureko: rich oriental honey cakes. Cyprus honey is excellent quality
Soumada: a hot drink made of almonds.
Wine in Cyprus dates back to Biblical times when the story of Solomon stated that Cyprus wines were the best in the world.
Commandaria, the rich, sweet dessert wine of the Crusaders, is the oldest wine known in the world.
Cyprus produces a wide range of red, white, sweet and dry wines as well as sherries, vermouth, and ports. Brandy is excellent in Cyprus as is the locally produced Cyprus lager, available throughout the island.
Ouzo is a strong distillation of grape juice taken with water and sometimes ice. It is high in alcohol content and tastes like an aniseed liqueur. When watered it looks like thin milk.
Zivania is another strong distillation. The pink cinnamon flavored variety is a specialty of the Kykko Monastery in the heart of the Paphos Forest.
Vegetarian food in Cyprus
For vegetarians, Cyprus is a gastronomic paradise. With abundant fresh fruit and vegetables, and sumptuous local herbs and spices, Cyprus will not leave you hungry.
Historically, meat eating in Cypriot and Greek cuisine was always a luxury. Meat was expensive so, for many, meat was reserved for Sundays. Vegetables, pulses and grains for the rest of the week formed the bulk of the Cypriot diet and these dishes remain staple popular food to this day. A ready supply of goats' milk, cheeses, olives, wild greens, figs, raisins, capers, nuts and herbs all form the basis of many a Cypriot delicacy.
The famous Greek mathematician and philosopher, Pythagaros established an entire school of vegetarianism. He lived a long, healthy life on a diet of honey, barley, millet and raw or boiled vegetables and these remain staples in Cypriot cuisine to this day.