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A feast of Cyprus Food

25 April, 2015

Cypriot Food is known to be a mixture of hot and cold dishes, served slowly in a Meze style.

Cypriot cuisine tends very much to be an inventive mixture of dishes from throughout the Mediterranean and has been heavily influenced by the numerous cultures that have governed the island. It would be incorrect to say that there is a true Cypriot cuisine identity because so many dishes that look and taste almost the same can be found in most of the surrounding countries, they just have different names. It is probably worth remembering that Yoghurt is actually a 17th C Turkish word and is pronounced with a silent ā€œgā€ but how often can it be found in a UK supermarket? The answer is seldom which does the true Turkish product an injustice because it is definably superior.

The Cypriot cook will use any manner of raw material that is at his/her disposal and often in spring fresh green shoots are gathered from the fields and hedgerows to be used in the creation of Meze. This is a selection of starters and usually forms part of the main meal and in a true local restaurant several dishes will come to the table and everyone helps themselves to a small amount. These dishes can number anything up to twenty five, most of them will be cold, with maybe half a dozen hot. Cold ones include, yoghurt, plain or mixed with cucumber and dried mint(cacik); hummous; beans, green and white; various cheeses; stuffed vegetables, which may also be served hot; coleslaw; vegetable batons; Russian salad; pickles of many types such as artichoke, beetroot, celery, cabbage, onions etc. olives in lemon juice and garlic. While the hot varieties may include (sigara borek) filo wrapped cheese; (kofte) spicy meatballs; (calamari) battered and deep fried octopus or squid, and grilled hellim (the cheese that squeaks when it is chewed). These are but a prelude to the main part of the meal which is nearly always fish or meat. Local sea bass or sea bream are the most popular and for the meats, which are nearly always grilled over charcoal, there will be a choice of lamb or chicken shish kebab; lamb chops; sheftali, a spiced lamb sausage, or grilled chicken. The speciality Cyprus dish and one that should be tried is kleftico, a piece of lamb, it could be a whole leg or shoulder but usually something more manageable, cooked very slowly in a clay oven with potatoes and tomatoes that absorb the juices. It is ready to eat when the meat falls off the bone and is mouth wateringly tender.

Desserts tend to be very sweet milk puddings, made with rice or semolina, or that wonderful honey soaked sweetmeat baklava, another Middle Eastern delicacy of many shapes and varieties. It is made with filo pastry, stuffed with nuts, pistachio and walnuts are favourite, before being oven baked in large trays, then soaked in honey. There is rarely room for a heavy pudding but most restaurants produce a plate of seasonal fresh fruit and the finishing touch should be a Turkish coffee.

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