THE CYPRIOT NUTRITION – GASTRONOMY
The island of Cyprus has over time formed a special mosaic of flavors, due to its geographical position (between three continents), its neighboring countries and the gastronomic influences of its conquerors.
Since the 12th century, Cyprus has been under the successive domination of the French, the Italian, the Turkish and the British Empires. All of them influenced and eventually shaped the island’s cuisine into a mixture of Greek-Mediterranean, Oriental and European cuisine. This is why Cyprus is characterized as a “gastronomic crossroad”.
Cypriots had developed trade throughout the Mediterranean, thus bringing back from their journeys ingredients and eating habits of other civilizations, integrating them into the culinary culture of the island.
As part of ancient Egypt, Cyprus had access to cumin, while cinnamon was imported from Sri Lanka. The cookware known as “Tavas” comes from Syria (during the Middle Ages, a large community of Maronites from Syria used to live in Cyprus). The mixing of cumin and cinnamon constitutes one of the characteristics of the Cypriot cuisine and an example of the cultural and gastronomic exchange which took part on the island. Other examples of typical delicacies in the Cypriot Cuisine, according to the American food historian William Woys Weaver, are the bread from chickpea flour which used to be common during the Middle Ages, and “trachanas” which was brought in the area by Franks.
The Cypriot Cuisine is meat-based, with pork being widely used in Cypriot meals, while the island is also popular, since ancient times, for its salads and fruits.
Olive oil, bread, honey, as well as legumes and vegetables have an important place in the Cypriot diet. Many vegetarian dishes served in Cyprus have exceptional taste. Seafood also has a prominent position. Squid and octopus are served marinated with wine, and the popular Cypriot mullet or the fried small fish (gavros) constitute unique local delicacies.
The main aromatics used in the Cypriot cuisine are: coriander, spearmint, cinnamon, laurel and cumin, which lend a special flavor to various dishes.
The variety of cold cuts that stand out in the Cypriot cuisine has been a result of the efforts for the preservation of meat. Salt, wine and smoke used to be – and still remain – the main meat preservation materials. Consequently, products with a unique taste came up, such as sausages, lountza and tsamarella.
Wine is another element of the Cypriot Gastronomy, with Commandaria being one of the oldest wines in the world, in terms of its production. Richard the Lionheart characterized Commandaria as “the wine of kings and the king of wines”. Zivania, the “national” drink of Cyprus, is also connected with the Cypriot tradition and culture.
When it comes to dairy products, two are the most notable cheeses of Cyprus: the popular halloumi, the only cheese that can be grilled without melting and that is consumed in various ways; and “anari”.
Some typical dishes of the Cypriot cuisine that every visitor has to taste are: (a) “ofto kleftiko”, made from lamb’s pieces with laurel leaves and cooked in a traditional oven sealed with clay; (b) the Cypriot skewer of lamb or pork; (c) “seftalia”, made from minced pork with onion and parsley and cooked on the grill; (d) the Cypriot smoked sausages, (e) “koupepia” which are vine leaves stuffed with rice and minced pork; (f) “Cypriot ravioli”, stuffed with halloumi and egg, sprinkled with chopped mint or peppermint; (g) “kolokasi” which is sweet potato often cooked with chicken or meat; (h) “tavas”, pork stew with large onions and cumin; (i) rabbit stew; (j) and the “meze” consisting of several dishes, cold and warm, which vary depending on the season and are served in small quantities.
Despite the fact that Cypriots’ favorite dishes are the grilled and baked ones, soups also hold an important position in the Cypriot diet.
The gastronomic journey conclude the traditional spoon sweets, which are the trademark of Cypriot hospitality and the ultimate treat. For the preparation of spoon sweets, honey, syrup, walnuts, fruits and vegetables are used.