If you have been labouring under the impression that Cypriot cuisine was comprised of nothing more than kebabs and salads, you would be wrong in the extreme. Yes, traditional Cypriot meals are very closely related to the healthy Mediterranean diet, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t tasty and satisfying.
It is no surprise that virtually every household in Cyprus has at least one charcoal fired BBQ because the Cypriots have established this method of cooking as something of a national pastime. The pace of Cypriot life and this traditional cookery medium actually go hand in hand with family gatherings usually centring on cooking alfresco for many months of the year. In this article, we are going to take something of a ramble through some of the most popular traditional Cypriot dishes and how they are prepared.
Kleftico (knocked off lamb)
Imagine Mother Nature’s own version of your modern slow cooker and you are already on the right track to sussing out how Lamb Kleftico has been cooked since around the time of the Apostle Paul. The neo-modern version is a brick and clay oven that is continuously heated for a few hours by means of scrap firewood. The clay and bricks store the heat, the sealed foil trays or oven-proof pots of dinner then go in where the fire was burning, and the hole is sealed up with old bricks and clay. A few hours later you break in and pull out a delicious slow roasted lamb dinner.
OK, yes, of course, you have to prepare it first and that is a fairly straightforward matter of cutting up a lamb (hopefully a fairly fresh one) and sticking the edible parts it in the pot or tray. Add some delicious Cyprus potatoes, a few peas or whatever you fancy, and the secret mix of herbs. Modern versions include a pork variant and a honey-coated option that I can assure you tastes absolutely divine. My Greek isn’t the best, but I am well informed that kleftico roughly means “stolen” and that accounts for the original version being secretly cooked in a hole in the ground.
Unless you have never switched on your TV set and not ventured into the outside world since birth, you will have heard of what is considered to be the best known of Cypriot and Greek dishes. The first versions of Moussaka are reputed to have originated with the Arabs and the dish is said to have found its way to Cyprus via the Turks. This makes a great deal of sense seeing as they came to visit in the early 1500s and decided to stay right up until the present day.
Anyway, less history and more food because there is one hell of a lot of ingredients in your average Cypriot Moussaka and they are all local. At the heart of this hefty dish lies some minced lamb or beef and anywhere up to 6 large eggs. Aubergines and tomatoes bulk it up and the incredible flavours come via nutmeg, black pepper, and ground cinnamon. Unfortunately, it isn’t created by magic so you have to prepare and cook it before you can actually eat it.
There are a lot of frying, some onions, a few delicious Cyprus potatoes, followed by about an hour in the oven too before it is delivered directly to the table still simmering in its own earthenware pot. As you may guess, it smells and tastes delicious and unless you want to end up looking like Mister Blobby I wouldn’t advise you to order any chips or salad to go with it.
Souvlaki, Sheftalia, and other grilled meats
Remember how we talked about those charcoal BBQs at the beginning of this article? Well, they are fitted with a little electric motor and a rather simple but clever gear rack that slowly revolves a series of skewers. Small pieces of marinated pork kebab called Souvlaki along with a herb-enhanced concoction known as a Sheftalia are cooked in this way and consumed with copious amounts of salad and pitta bread.
Eating out Cypriot style
Cypriot families love to eat late and slow, turning mealtimes into something of an occasion. The favourite dish when eating out is a meze that just seems to keep on coming with course after course. It typically starts with olives and other finger foods before picking up speed with the main course of different local meats or fish. When you visit Cyprus you should try socialising over a long slow meze at least once before your holiday is over.
For friendly and helpful advice concerning places to visit in Cyprus, or to book your holiday there, please contact us at Cyprus Sun Holiday Rentals, or call us on 00 357 2383 1194.