Food preparation and sharing has a ritualistic character and is very central to Cypriot culture as it accompanies every social event, from casual family gatherings, special occasions to religious festivals. On occasions when friends or family gather to eat together, it is typical to share “mezedes”, that is, a sequence of many smaller dishes, starters, main dishes, and dessert which are shared among the guests.
Cypriot cuisine is a blend of Greek, Turkish, Middle Eastern, and Armenian flavors reflecting the multicultural identity of the island and the heritage of all the people who have inhabited it through the years. Considering that the Mediterranean diet is recommended, local cuisine can boast for being both tasty and healthy.
Although Cyprus is surrounded by water, dishes with meat, vegetables, and legumes are more common than fish and seafood. Some of those dishes include:
Halloumi is a semi-hard cheese made of a blend of sheep and goat’s milk which has been registered as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product, meaning that within the EU only products made in certain parts of Cyprus can be called “halloumi”. Its high melting point means that it can be fried or grilled making it a popular choice in the vegetarian community. It is usually served in Cypriot pitta bread with tomato making it a great option for breakfast, snack, or light dinner.
Souvlakia – Sheftalia:
It is probably one of the most popular dishes among locals and tourists. It is pork (or sometimes chicken) meat cooked on BBQ and it is often served together with sheftalia, a type of sausage with different spices. The good weather conditions throughout the year allow for people to cook it in their yard or balcony where they gather around to talk, drink zivania, the traditional strong spirit made of grapes, and socialize until the food is ready. Souvlakia and/or sheftalia are served in pitta bread, salad and can be accompanied with yogurt and other starters.
Kolokasi/Poulles (Taro root):
Kolokasi is a root that is cultivated mostly around the village of Sotira in the eastern part of Cyprus, is yet another product registered as Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). It is very nutritious and although it is traditionally cooked with meat, if omitted, it qualifies as a very good option for vegetarians. The bigger roots, kolokasi, are usually cooked as a stew often with pork meat in a tomato-based sauce. Poulles, the smaller and thinner roots are fried in olive oil sometimes with potatoes too with crushed coriander seeds and adding red wine at the end. This dish is served with salad and yogurt. Fun fact: “poulla” is an expression of endearment that is often used for girls or women one feels affection for although not necessarily in a romantic context.
Trachanas is a thick soup that originates most likely from Turkish cuisine and therefore there are many different variations in the Balkans and the Middle East. It is made of goat milk and cracked wheat flour, which is formed into oval patties and dried to be used during the winter months. The Cypriot version of the soup is often served with small pieces of halloumi cheese which are added to the soup towards the end.
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