Cypriot cuisine is the cuisine encountered on the island of Cyprus, located in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Cypriot cuisine is shaped by the island's Mediterranean climate, geography, and history. Reflecting the two dominant populations, Cypriot cuisine has evolved as a fusion of Greek and Turkish cuisine, with local twists on well-known dishes. Further influences are evident from neighboring countries, namely Levantine, with similarity to Lebanese cuisine. There are remnants too of French, Italian, and Anglo-Saxon influences stemming from the island's occupation by the Luisignan Franks, the Venetians, and the British. Modern western cuisine (especially fast food) has an increasing influence on the day-to-day diet on the island.
Salad vegetables are eaten at every meal, sometimes whole. More often, they are prepared chopped, sliced, and dressed with lemon and good olive oil. In the summer, the usual salad is of celery leaves and stalks, parsley, coriander leaves, tomatoes, and cucumber. Summer Purslane or Glystiridha is very popular as are wild dandelion leaves. Feta cheese, though not completely traditional, has become very popular, especially in the North where it is an ever present on the dining table.
In the early spring, artichokes are in season. Cypriots do not eat the leaves but the stalk and hearts. A common preparation is braised with garden peas, with a little onion and perhaps a chopped tomato. Meat is sometimes added.
Bamies(okra or ladies' fingers) are baked in the oven with tomato and oil, and Kounoupidhi (cauliflower) is also given this treatment. Cauliflower is also made into Moungra, a sour pickle covered with a liquor made from vinager, yeast, and mustard seeds.
Goloji is a gourd rather like a marrow but thinner. It is sometimes stuffed with rice and meat (referred to as yemistes in Greek, dolma in Turkish) and is common in all areas of the Middle East and Asia Minor. It may also be sliced into rather thick slices and cooked with fresh black-eyed peas.
Vazania (aubergines) can be prepared in a variety of ways, including stuffed and moussaka. They are commonly fried and stewed rather slowly in oil, where the cooking time brings out the flavour and also allows them to shed the oil they have absorbed.
Being only a very recently urbanized country, Cypriots traditionally ate fresh meat once a week, on Sundays. This was usually a boiled chicken, served with a starch (maybe pasta, maybe pourgouri) cooked in the liquor. This would stretch the meat to go round the family. Other fresh meat dishes were only enjoyed very occasionally, sometimes en mass as a feast such as a wedding. Now, as people are better off and meat is available, traditional meat dishes are enjoyed frequently.
Tavvas is a lamb casserole, rather like a North African tagine, spiced with a good deal of cumin. Afelia, when well prepared, is a delicious saute of pork, red wine, and coriander seeds. Psito is large chunks of meat and potatoes cooked in the oven. Plenty of fat is used in its preparation; traditionally, this would have been rendered pig fat, but now sunflower oil is used. Olive oil is used as a dressing for salads, vegetables, and pulses and is not used to cook meat dishes.
Preserved pork meat is very popular, and before refrigeration, it was the main source of red meat available to Greek Cypriots. Turkish Cypriots being Muslims traditionally do not eat pork. During the initial brining of meat to be cured, Cypriots also add red wine; therefore, there is a characteristic flavour to most of the charcouterie from the island.
Lountza is made from the pork tenderloin. After the initial brining and wining, it is smoked. Although it can be aged, many prefer younger, milder lountza. It is often cooked over coals or fried with eggs as well as a sandwich filler or part of a meze. Stronger than Lountza and made from the leg, is Chiromeri, which is similar to any smoked, air-dried ham from Southern Europe, though of course the wine flavour makes it characteristically Cypriot. In non-mountain areas, the same meat used for chiromeri are cut into strips along the muscle compartments and dried in the sun as 'Basta'. The shoulder of a freshly slaughtered animal is cut into chunks about the size of an almond along with a smaller quantity of chopped back fat, which are wined and brined and put into intestines and smoked as saussages called Loukanika. The Italians have a sausage of the same name.
A practice most traditional, but dying out fast, is rendering pig fat to use as a cooking medium and a preservative. The loukanika mentioned above, as well as chunks of fried salted pork meat and fat, can be kept in earthenware jars submerged in the lard for a long time, even in the heat of the island.
Lamb and Goat is also preserved as Tsamarella, made very salty to prevent the fatty lamb from going rancid. Very popular amongst both communities is preserved beef. The whole silversides and briskets are salted and spiced quite powerfully to make Pastourmas, probably the origin of pastrami. The same meat and some fat is chopped finely and made into Pastourmas Loukaniko- sausages. These preparations probably come from the Armenian community but are found throughout the Middle East.
Greek Cypriots consider snails a delicacy but this is not as popular with Turkish Cypriots. Snails are in season in late autumn, when the first good rains arrive after the hot summer. After being purged, they are either prepared as a pilaf with rice, or cooked in cinamon, onions and tomatoes as a stifado.
Frequently used ingredients are vegetables such as courgettes, green peppers, okra, green beans, artichokes, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and grape leaves, and pulses such as beans (for fasoulia), broad beans, peas, black-eyed beans, chick-peas and lentils. Pears, apples, grapes, oranges, mandarines, nectarines, mespila, blackberries, cherry, strawberries, figs, watermelon, melon, avocado, citrus, lemon, pistachio, almond, chestnut, walnut, hazelnut are some of the commonest of the fruits and nuts. Some of the most well-known spices and herbs are: pepper, parsley, roka, celery, mint, thyme, oregano, and others. Traditionally though, artisha (cumin) and kolliandros (coriander) seeds make up the main cooking aromas of the island
Cypriots grill over charcoal. They use halloumi cheese, olives, mushrooms, loukanika sausages, and of course Kebabs. These are either souvlakia (shish), sheftalies, or Gyros (doner). They are made from various cuts of lamb, pork, or occasionally chicken, and very rarely beef, very often stuffed into pitta bread, along with a salad of cabbage, parsley, and raw mild onions, tomatoes and cucumber. Greek Cypriot souvlaki is usually made of pork, whilst the Turkish Cypriots use lamb in their shish kebabs. Similar in appearance, the flavour is quite different, especially as the Turkish Cypriots sometimes use a spicy marinade. Gyros (doner) is quite similar, and the taste is different only due to salad or dressings added.
Mint is a very important herb in Cyprus. It grows voraciously, and locals use it for everything, particularly in dishes containing ground meat. For example, the Cypriot version of macaronia tou fournou (pastitsio) contains very little tomato and generous amounts of mint. The same is true of Kioftedhes (keftedhes or meat balls), which are sometimes laced with mint to provide a lovely contrast with the meat.
Pourgouri (bulgar wheat) is the traditional carbohydrate other then bread. It is steamed with tomato and onion; a few strands of vermiccelli pasta are often added to provide a texture contrast. Along with pourgouri, natural yoghurt is a staple. Wheat and yoghurt come together in the traditional peasants' breakfast of Trahanas, a primitive form of pasta, in which the cracked wheat is steamed, mixed with sour milk, dried, and stored. Small amounts reheated in water or broth provide a very nourishing and tasty meal, especially with added cubes of well-aged halloumi.
For Greek Cypriots, there are many fasting days imposed by the Greek Orthodox Church, and though not everyone adheres, many do. On these days, effectively all animal products must not be consumed. Pulses are eaten instead, sometimes cooked in tomato sauce (yiahni) but more usually simply prepared and dressed with good olive oil and lemon. On some days, even olive oil is not allowed. These meals often consist of raw onion, raw garlic, and dried red chilies munched along with these austere dishes to add variety of taste to the simple meal, though this practice is dying out. If you are a visitor to Cyprus, it is well worth tracking down such a meal, though you will never find it in a restaurant near a tourist area!
Maybe because pulses are consumed on fasting days, there are very few dishes that combine meat and dry pulses, such as one might find in Italy or Spain. Cypriots get their full protein because they eat rice or bread alongside lentils or beans. A typical example being Moutjentra, a rather sloppy pilaf of rice, lentils, and fried onions. This dish is to be found in many cultures all the way to the Indian subcontinent.
Triantafylon, a syrup made from the extract of the Cyprus (Damscus) rose, is enjoyed as a refreshing sweet cordial. You either add water or milk in it, especially in the summer months. This is not to be confused with rodostemma (rose water) which is used to sweeten machalepi(a traditional Cypriot sweet) and other sweetmeats.
Cyprus also has a tradition of brandy production, with Cypriot brandy having been produced by various Limassol-based distilleries since 1871. Cypriot brandy is commonly drunk with meze dishes and forms the base for the distinctive Brandy Sour cocktail, developed on the island in the late-1930s.