Food is a huge part of Cypriot culture and the locals are brought up to love it, cook it and share it. Most of the islanders’ meetings revolve around food, and there are some dishes that are unique to the country. Cypriot cuisine is made using fresh ingredients with a unique mix of local herbs and spices that combine to create traditional recipes.
The most traditional meal, and a local favourite, is souvlakia, which is the first meal many choose when returning to the island. Although kebab is found in other cultures, Cypriot souvlakia differs in its pitta bread, the tahini dip and of course the sheftalia (lamb-and-pork sausage). As many of its ingredients and even cooking equipment – such as the foukou where the souvla is cooked – cannot be found abroad, many will miss this simple home-cooked Cypriot food.
That said, nothing quite beats a Cypriot grandmother’s cooking, and many will often argue about whose grandma does it best. From stuffed vine leaves and moussaka to afelia (pork drenched in wine and dried coriander seeds), no tavern will ever come close to a meal prepared by a Cypriot grandmother’s hands. And even though she might tell you how a meal is cooked, it won’t taste the same as when she makes it. Lunching at your grandmother’s is a weekly occurrence in Cyprus, and though they constantly bombard their grandchildren with packed lunches, it’s an act of love and a taste of home that you’ll come to miss when living abroad.
With nearly 300 days of sunshine, there’s no lack of vitamin D on the island and surviving the sun becomes the norm. Enjoying a coffee outdoors and tanning at the beach are common Cypriot pastimes that people crave when away. And although the strong rays can become a little too much to handle, sunshine has become a part of the local identity and is often something that’s taken for granted. When you step outside the airplane and squint while looking for your sunglasses, that’s when you know you’re back in Cyprus.
With over 50 blue-flagged beaches around Cyprus, the island’s blue waters are renowned across the globe. Tucking your toes in the warm sand and cooling down in the crystal-clear waters are something most people miss when they move away. Nothing quite beats a day at Konnos Bay with a iced cold frappé in hand.
Cypriots never have to travel too far to get to where they need to be. On this small island, if two friends live 20 minutes away from each other, they are said to be ages away. It doesn’t take long to get to any destination, and even driving from one corner of Cyprus to the other would take a maximum of two and half hours. It’s not uncommon to combine a day in the mountains with a beach trip, and still have time to spare. So when you’re on your 45-minute underground ride to work, you will really miss that Cypriot 10-minute drive.
Most teens get their driver’s licence as soon as they turn 18 in Cyprus and drive everywhere from then on. Almost everybody owns a car, which makes travelling and getting from place to place really easy as you don’t have to wait for a bus or a train. Finding parking may be tricky, but being the boss of your own timetable is pretty awesome. It also paves the way for spontaneous road trips!
In smaller communities, everyone knows everyone and it’s quite easy to bump into your friends. So without even planning a meet-up, you might randomly see an acquaintance in the street or at a bar, which makes it much easier to stay in touch with people. And with a limited number of venues to go out in (although they keep increasing!) you’re bound to see someone you know or that you randomly met at a previous bar. Cypriots don’t have to schedule in seeing friends, as chances are they’ll catch them around town.
Family ties are very important for Cypriots and meeting with the family is a regular occurrence. Aunts and uncles may get a bit more involved in your life than you’d like them to, but spending time with your loved ones and attending their birthday parties are simple events you’ll appreciate once you’re away from Cyprus.
A lot of Cypriot households decorate their front entrance with jasmine plants that give off a delicious scent when the flowers bloom throughout spring and summer. Walking through a neighbourhood and smelling the jasmine there will always be an instant reminder of Cyprus.
That cliché that people from Mediterranean countries use their hands and facial expressions a lot when they speak sums up Cypriot conversations. The backwards head tilt that means no and the biting of the lip and touch of the face when something seems unbelievable are some of the unique ways Cypriots communicate with each other without using any words at all. Doing these expressions abroad can sometimes lead to funny or awkward situations and there’s no greater relief than when you finally reconnect with people that understand them.
Cypriots are known for their hospitality and they’ll go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. Those moments of genuine interaction with strangers are deeply rooted in Cypriots. Very often, taverns will offer a coffee and a piece of fruit on the house after a meal, and bars always accompany drinks with nuts or chips free of charge. These small acts of hospitality are things that are really missed when moving away from Cyprus.
In Cyprus, nothing yells ‘4am snack’ better than a toasted sandwich from a bakery that’s open 24 hours a day. Besides the convenience of always finding something warm to eat in the overnight bakers, numerous kiosks spread across the towns are open all day and night, selling last-minute goods such as batteries, drinks, snacks, cards, candy and even hygiene products. Anything you might need late at night, you’ll easily find in Cyprus. Just take your car and drive to the nearest store.
The charm of food shopping in Cyprus is that you get to choose which potatoes, which peppers and which tomatoes to buy, as few items are pre-packed. Supermarkets and farmer’s markets allow you to see, feel and smell a vegetable or fruit before you put it in your basket, and that really is something a country with a lot of fresh produce offers that you may not easily find in big cities abroad. You might even not need to buy lemons, as most Cypriots simply cut off lemons from a tree in a relative’s yard.