TASTE OF CYPRUS
Last week, I had an invite to a Cyprus Lunch Preview at ITC Maurya in collaboration with the High Commission of Cyprus. This was an exclusive and first of its kinds opportunity to discover the Cypriot cuisine in the aegis of the High Commissioner and his team. I am sure this sounds like a full belly to food lovers but I was inundated with mixed feelings. While I was keen to join this culinary journey, I was nervous about my ignorant self. The country touted as the birthplace of Aphrodite (Cypriot Goddess) was unknown to me. I will not shy away from accepting the fact that I really did not know much about this Mediterranean beauty except that it is a living treasure of Greek and Turkish traditions. Trust me, I had to take the help of Google to learn that Lefkosia (Nicosia) is the capital of Republic of Cyprus and it is the last divided capital in the world. This actually got me intrigued to a whole new world.
CYPRIOTS VALUE FAMILY, FRIENDSHIP AND FOOD
It was a feast at Ottimo at West View, one of the five star restaurant of ITC MAURYA. A lavish spread was prepared by special Chefs, Aimilios Aslanis and Katerina Fragkopoulou who wanted to introduce us to the rich, varied and flavoursome Cypriot cuisine. A quick glance at the spread told me that fruits, vegetables, fresh breads, salads, olives, sauces, meat and fish was part of Cypriot way of life and kitchen. The Turkish, Greek and Middle Eastern influence was evident in many ways. To know more about the traditional cuisines and what the lunch and dinner of the island looked like, I initiated conversations with the representatives of the embassy.
When the natives talk, they reveal a whole new perspective about a place. Nothing could have been better than the High Commissioner, Mr. Agis Loizou speaking himself. First and foremost, he emphasized on the beautiful relations of Cyprus and India and how our values for family and friendship brings us closer as countries. Next, he charmed us with the beauty and history of the country that is steeped in age-old customs. He also mentioned that Cypriots take eating very seriously and are high on love for life and love for food. With this he left us free to discover it for ourselves.
Interestingly, a food guide tells me that Cypriots enjoy healthy diet and the housewives are very particular about using fresh ingredients. The motto of almost every Cypriot housewife is “If it isn’t fresh, we don’t want it.”
YOU GOT TO EAT AND INDULGE TO KNOW
Let me take you through the tantalizing menu along with the wines, Coffee and the Cyprus Island products that I got to learn about. The mild climate and fertile soil of the island is suitable for staples such as figs, beans, chickpeas, herbs, olives, dates and almonds. I am sure this is also enough to assure you that the vegetarian in you will never have a dull moment. Louvi are the black-eyed beans and they are loved by Cypriots. Even the buffet spread promised a lot of options for veg lovers with use of peppers, tomatoes, onions, eggplants and vegetable stuffing.
Some of the dishes that I tasted are salads, Koupepia (dolmades), Tirokafteri, Lahanokeftedes, Halloumi Pies, Tomatokeftedes, Baklava, Daktila, Grilled Halloumi, stuffed peppers, varieties of hummus, pita bread, fish baked in salt, Tourlou Tourlou, Ravioles with Halloumi and Mint and lamb chops. Further interaction with the chefs helped me to learn that Cypriots love to grow vegetables and fruits, especially oranges and grapefruit. They love mezze platters and are fond of Lamb, pork and rabbit meat. The cooking methods are simple and classical with a preference for olive oil, grilling and deep fat frying. Usually the fish is baked in one piece while Lambs are prepared by slow cooking (Kleftiko).
Situated at the crossroads of three major continents – Europe, Asia and Africa, has a very intriguing and strategic placement on the world map. While the island’s Greek roots are known to all, the multi-cultural influence of the Phoenicians, Assyrians, Franks, Venetians, Ottomons and British has also played a key role in developing its traditional as well as diverse cuisines.
The never heard of names of the dishes got me asking for more and a little effort made me learn that keftedes means meatballs, Koupepias are most famous traditional Cyprus dishes that are rolled in vine leaves and stuffed with meat and rice while Tirokafteri is a cheesy-spicy Greek dip. Lahano Keftedes are vegetarian Croquettes, also called as traditional village dish made from vegetables. Daktila are Greek sweet pastries while Baklava are heavenly treats made with thin layers of dough and filled with honey-soaked layers, nuts and spiced walnuts. I had tasted my first baklava in Riyadh and this was different from there. In fact, first baklavas came from the Ottomans and it is prepared differently in Middle Eastern Countries.
This was my first introduction to the Cypriot history, food and culture and very compelling one. For all those who are always eager to visit a new country to explore and indulge, Cyprus seems to be a treat. A small presentation on tourism which happened at the food festival was enough to make me curious around Mediterranean bliss, pine clad Troodos Mountains, Byzantine icons, UNESCO world heritage mosaics and churches, crystal clear waters of Ammochostos, romance and history of Pafos, hidden gems and the Aphrodite cultural route.
IN CYPRUS, DON’T MISS
- Meze or mezedes is about the true flavors of the Island. It consists of around 30 dishes and makes a complete meal.
- The island’s most loved cheese – Halloumi (made from the mixture of goat and sheep milk).
- A traditional takeaway of the Island is pitta bread envelope with souvlakia and salad.
- Mahalepi is a creamy pudding which floats in rosewater syrup and is much loved by Cypriots.
- In the vegetable market, there will be watermelons in the month of July and August and sweet, seedless grapes from July to November. The green and purple figs are a delight in August and September.
- The wine routes of Cyprus that entertain visitors with Marvo, white grape Xynisteri, Commandaria and unique local wines. Cyprus has been producing wines for almost 5000 years
- Local coffee is a must and do ensure that you tell them your preference, glykos (sweet), metrios (medium sweet) or sketos (unsweetened).
Based on my three favorites from the food festival, I would love to go to Cyprus for the keftedes, the amazingly cooked lamb chops and freshly baked salt & fish. Kudos to ITC Maurya for introducing me to yet another international cuisine.