Going to Cyprus was an unforgettable trip. I had a great time with my now 13-year old son, my mother, and my sister. I had some revelation on the power of forgiveness and time. I have begun a journey of meditation on the difference between the Hebrew-Christian experience versus our “Western” Greek-influenced Christian expression, and met some really great people, whom I hope become life long friends not matter what time zone we live in.
And then, of course, there was the food…
I honestly didn’t know what to expect with Cypriot food. I mean, like Sicily, this island has been invaded, bought, sold, fought over, pillaged, conquered and subjugated to all sorts of rule, reign, and culture. Not officially a “Greek island,” as they are their own nation, but their food has been heavily influenced by the Greeks that once ruled and settled here. There is also a significant Turkish influence (partly due to their once and now current occupation in the north by these same Ottomans), as well as the rest of Europe, especially the UK, as England “owned” this mountainous island in the Mediterranean as well.
But lets be honest here, the English didn’t affect the food culture that much, they rarely do. So what I ended up experiencing was a nice blend of Greek and Turkish food, with a touch of the rest of the Middle East as well.
The locals seem to eat fairly modestly. Apparently most of their meat comes from off the island and because of that, it is relatively expensive, but the surrounding sea does contribute its fair share of seafood to be sure. Pita, and other Euro/middle eastern style breads always abound and breakfast, like mentioned in one my traveling posts, is surrounded by flakey phyllo dough, whether sweet or savory.
One of the nights we were there, a lovely older Armenian/Cypriot/English woman named Knar took my family and I out to a wonderful meal in the Limassol, Cyprus (the closest city to the village we were staying in). She took us to a restaurant that was translated as “Little Plates,” and just like its name, the meal was a collection of small plates of food, think tapas, with a rich Cypriot and Meditteranean influence seasoned with this Chef’s travels throughout other parts of the world.
The first two courses were memorable to be sure, but the truth is “memorable” doesn’t quite capture it. Lightly battered and fried celery leaves came out in what appeared to be a glass jar where we dug in and crunched on them much like we would go after french fries fried in duck fat. The second plate was a simply prepared deviled egg with local caviar on a cracker. A perfect bite!
Next came the most beautiful, bright salad with mixed greens, fresh pomengranate, haloumi cheese, kiwi and a super light honey mustard dressing that could have been meal unto itself.
This brilliant salad was served alongside the best pita I have ever had! No kidding, baked in a bag with herbs and local Cypriot olive oil, this meal was beginning to work magic on my taste buds. I felt like Bob Wiley eating fried chicken in What About Bob for a few minutes…
After the wonderful salad and baked pita, we had a plate placed in front of us that combines two of my most favorite flavors on the earth, bacon and cheese. Oh, I know you have heard me go on and on about my love for cheese in past posts, but in addition to Commandaria, Cyprus as the grip on one of the most delicious cheeses you may never have heard of, haloumi. Salty, creamy, and yet almost cheddar-like, this cheese is served for breakfast, as a snack, jammed in some pita with fresh veg, or like this, wrapped in bacon!
What followed was a mixed array of seafood that included a teriyaki-like salmon steak, fried red mullet with a paprika butter, and even baby octopus!
The food just kept coming. We then had chicken “fingers” that were not like any fingers I have licked in the states, a “Virginia” ham like steak with a roasted apple, veal medallions with a tart-and-sweet cherry sauce, and my favorite of the night, roasted duck with cured and sweetened whole, local walnuts.
We ate so much, it was hard to leave the restaurant and not be in a coma. Heck, we even split two desserts that weren’t all that memorable, or maybe I was just so stuffed that I lost all sense of taste and smell, I didn’t even bother to take a picture.
I could say more, for sure, on my food experiences in Cyprus. The sights, smells, and tastes will be a big part of my food culture from here and throughout my future culinary travels. It is clear that not a lot of Americans travel to Cyprus, as it is so far away and frankly we have some great beaches a lot closer, but if you are in the area…you should definitely drop in, say hi to my sister, and explore the food of this great, ancient island.