Phyllo Dough (Greek: φύλλο)
One thing I can count on in Cyprus is that flaky, layered, golden goodness breakfast pastries wrapped in phyllo (filo) dough. Every bakery (and there are loads of them) serve up dozens and dozens of phyllo dough pastry items. Many with savory ingredients like cheese (haloumi and feta), spinach, and various sausages, and of course many with sweet ingredients like creamy custard, apple, and simply dusted with powdered sugar. Unlike the US coffee shops, where we are used to a variety of assorted pastries (most coming out of a commercial kitchen the day before), the morning pastry in Cyprus is baked that morning and spread out on trays, sliced, lined up, and presented in a way that makes the buffet line at a Sunday hotel brunch line look less appetizing.
Every morning men (predominantly) would quickly pull off the road, dash into the bakery and and grab their favorite one or two pastries, in a bag, pay a couple of Euro and either sit down for a Cypriot (don’t call it Turkish here) coffee and get on with their day. I honestly don’t know where the women were…oh yeah…I guess I remember after all…the women were in their village homes sweeping, watering plants, pulling weeds and otherwise working, while these slacker men were eating their pastry, drinking their coffee, and talking over the news of the day (I am sure something to do with Turkey illegally occupying the North since the 70s), and playing backgammon. Nothing though, seemed to separate the Cypriots from their daily intake of this unleavened dough.
This ancient art of stretching and layering, over and over and over again has been rooted in Central Asian cuisine since the 11th century. Originally thought to come out of the Ottoman Empire (Turks), phyllo dough has been adapted, stretched, and folded in home and commercial kitchens ever since. From as far east as India, north from Herzegovinia, Bosnia, Bulgaria and Serbia, and west to the Greeks, phyllo dough-based pastry takes on various forms. The Turks love their Baklava (nuts and syrup), Greeks with their Spanakopita (cheese by itself or with spinach) and in Bosnia et al, Kreatopita (meat) and Patatopita (potatoes).
Phyllo dough is made with flour, water, and a small amount of oil and white vinegar, though some dessert recipes also call for egg yolks. Homemade phyllo takes time and skill, requiring progressive rolling and stretching to a single thin and very large sheet. A very big table and a long roller are used, with continual flouring between layers to prevent tearing. These sheets are stacked and either turned to a “pie shell” to hold their ingredients or multi layers wrapped over the “filling,” and shaped into triangles, tubes, and other assorted pasty domes.
Honestly, as much as I loved having this flaky dough for breakfast each day, I found myself wanting more. Was I missing the familiarity of my home, or was it simply that as much as I appreciate the artistry and commitment to the phyllo dough pastry technique and varied fillings, I needed something else? Not sure I will know the answer to this simple question, but I will say this…I really enjoyed the culture, the history, and the artisanship. May phyllo dough live for another 10 centuries! Opah!