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Cypriot mixed grilled meat with vegetables and potatoes
Cypriot mixed grilled meat with vegetables and potatoes | © rawf8 / Shutterstock
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The Best Traditional Foods In Cyprus

Picture of Eleni Philippou
Updated: 10 July 2018
Eating in Cyprus is serious business, as food is a huge part of the culture and locals take dining to heart – you’ll rarely spot Cypriots gathered around a table without a couple of plates to snack on. With a rich history and a location that crosses three continents, the island has seen a variety of influences, all of which colourfully add to the local gastronomy.

Background

Being so close to the Middle East has definitely had an impact on the island’s cuisine, as many dishes are similar to those in the region. Flavours are also shared between Cyprus and Turkey, but the island’s cuisine is closest to the refreshing Greek gastronomy. Here are some unique foods that you have to try.

The foods

Halloumi

Halloumi is probably Cyprus’ most famous product, with its popularity extending to many countries throughout Europe and the Middle East. Distinguishable by its mild salty flavour and rubbery texture, the delicacy has become a favourite for chefs across the globe, appearing in dishes as diverse as lamb roast and halloumi fries.

The cheese is produced by combining a mixture of goat’s and sheep milk, before being set with rennet. This is an unusual practice due to the absence of acid-producing bacteria in any part of the process, a standard for most dairy products. Halloumi’s high melting point means it can be easily fried or grilled, or served cold alongside freshly sliced watermelon; the perfect summer dinner.

Grilled_Halloumi
Grilled halloumi cheese | © Hmioannou / WikiCommons

Koupepia (stuffed vine leaves) and gemista

The Cypriot variety of the dolma uses minced meat, rice, onions, tomatoes and a mixture of herbs. This filling is then carefully wrapped in fresh vine leaves. A village favorite, this dish can be found commonly throughout Greece, Turkey and the Middle East. Koupepia are usually made in large batches and can be frozen to be enjoyed at a later time – the dish is in every Cypriot grandmother’s menu. The stuffing of vegetables, called gemista, is a Cypriot tradition which extends beyond vine leaves, with peppers, tomatoes, onions, courgettes and even courgette flowers often being cooked in this manner.

Gemista, stuffed peppers, tomatoes and courgette with rice, vegetables and herbs
Stuffed vegetables and vine leaves are cooked in the oven with plenty of olive oil | © isidoros andronos / Shutterstock

Souvlakia and sheftalia

A spin-off from the famous Greek dish, the Cypriot-style souvlaki consists of small chunks of charcoal-grilled meat on a skewer, and a large amount of fresh salad filling. It’s a very popular meal, as many locals catch up over a pitta of souvlakia. The pitta bread used is thinner and larger than the Greek version, and usually contains a pocket to hold the ingredients, rather than wrapping the filling in the Greek way.

The meat is commonly pork or chicken and can be accompanied by sheftalia. These are spiced sausage parcels with herbs, minced pork or lamb that are grilled. Alternatively, there are vegetarian options too, with mushroom and halloumi.

Cyprus Mixed
Cyprus mix souvlaki in traditional pitta bread | © Bill Warry / Shutterstock

Souvla

Similar in look to souvlaki but different in taste is souvla, comprising large chunks of meat slow-cooked on a large skewer over a charcoal barbeque, called foukou in Greek. The meat is neck and shoulder of either pork, lamb, or chicken. This food is seen as the king of meat dishes in Cypriot cuisine, as it’s very common that a group of friends gather to cook souvla, while drinking beer, snacking and chatting as it takes a good hour or two. It’s a popular meal eaten on Easter Sunday to celebrate the end of fasting and can be accompanied with a range of other dishes, usually potatoes and salads.

Cypriot souvla cooking on the sea
Cypriot souvla cooking on the sea | © kirill_makarov / Shutterstock

Kolokouthkia me ta afka (courgettes with eggs)

This dish often comes along with a dozen other mezze dishes, and consists of fried courgettes with scrambled eggs, sprinkled with salt. Most traditional eateries and restaurants serve this, and it’s considered to be a very simple and typically Cypriot dish to accompany any other main.

Fried zucchini
Olive oil and salt is the only flavouring this dish needs | © Chris Christou / Shutterstock

Makaronia tou fournou

Popularly known in Greece as pastitsio, the Cypriot version differs for its use of cheese, which is no other than halloumi, sprinkled with dry mint. Large pasta tubes, béchamel sauce and a tomato-y minced pork are the main ingredients used. Thin curls of cheese are often sprinkled on the top to give it a crispy crunch. The dish is usually prepared in a large oven pan. When served as a main dish, this Cypriot delicacy usually comes with a side of salad.

Pastitsio, traditional Greek baked pasta casserole with ground beef, tomatoes, feta cheese and bechamel sauce
The layed pasta with minced meat and bechamel sauce are cut into square servings | © Victority / Shutterstock

Ttavas

Ttavas means “clay pot”, referring to the receptacle in which it is customary to prepare and serve this traditional meal. Chunks of lamb, rice, vegetables and potatoes are cooked together in the pot, along with cumin which gives it a tangy flavour. Its origin can be traced back to Lefkara village, a place that holds a lot of cultural heritage due to its internationally-recognised lace.

Kleftiko

This dish comes with a fascinating back story. Kleftiko gets its name from the word “stolen”, as historically people would steal meat and bury it to be slow-cooked in covered holes in the ground, so that no smoke would give away the location of the thieves. Today, it’s cooked in traditional round, white ovens for many hours, flavoured with bay leaves, oregano and red wine. The dish is accompanied by soft oven potatoes or bulgar wheat cooked in an onion and tomato sauce. Have it with a side of yoghurt to refresh each bite.

Plate of kleftiko with juicy lamb, in Cyprus
A plate of juicy lamb kleftiko has to be tender and slightly fatty | © Alizada Studios / Shutterstock

Stifado

Another hearty meat dish that’s a favourite in Cyprus is the moist stifado, prepared with onions and drenched in red wine. Beef is usually cooked alongside cinnamon sticks and cloves that give it a sweet kick. It is believed that the Venetians brought the recipe over and Cypriots added tomatoes in the 16th century when the fruit reached Europe. Stifado is cooked for several hours and is served with rice or bulgur (pilaf).

Greek beef stifado served with baby potatoes and fresh bread sticks
Stifado is traditionally done with onions which give a sweet flavour | © WilliamEdwards14/ Shutterstock

Kolokasi (taro)

Originating from southeast Asia and Malaysia, this vegetable grows in Cyprus as the Colocasia Esculanta variety. Diners must tread carefully, however: eating it kolokasi in its raw form can be poisonous. Nonetheless, it’s a very popular food across the island, especially during the winter as it’s a thick and substantial vegetable. Cut in small chunks, the vegetable is cooked in a tomato sauce with onions, herbs and chicken. Some like to replace chicken with pork.

'Kolokasi' Taro root) an edible vegetable root grows in Cyprus
Raw kolokasi root grows in Cyprus | © rontav / Shutterstock

Louvi

A staple in every Cypriot kitchen, this simple and healthy dish mainly consists of black eyed beans, and is served with boiled courgettes or Swiss chard, oil, salt and lemon. The beans are low in fat while being high in carbohydrates and protein. When growing they are extremely drought tolerant, meaning they can survive even in the extreme heat of the scorching Cyprus summers. Tuna, cucumber and tomato are often served as fresh and flavuorful side plates with louvi. Many households have beans on Mondays and Tuesdays, a cultural and religious trait passed down through generations.

Black-eyed peas
Louvi can also be eaten as a salad with tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce | © SC77 / Shutterstock

Koubes

Koubes originate from the Levant region, and are basically a torpedo-shaped croquette. The outer shell is made of bulgur and encases a filling of minced meat infused with middle-eastern spices. These tasty bites are served with lemon wedges, with the zingy zest of the fruit really bringing out the filling flavour. Koubes can be purchased in bakeries throughout the island.

Trachanas

This thick soup is another dish that vegetarians can enjoy among the island’s traditionally meat-heavy cuisine. It’s made with dried cracked wheat and soured goat’s milk, and is the perfect winter meal. It’s common to add pieces of halloumi to the soup once it’s cooked, which softens the cheese and makes it even more chewy. For big fans, trachanas is sold dry so you can take it away and make it whenever you wish – talk about a different souvenir.

Loukoumades (lokmades)

Loukoumades are made by deep frying dough balls, soaking them in honey and then coating them generously in crushed nuts, sesame seeds, cinnamon. Often referred to as honey doughnuts, these sweet treats have a light and spongy texture and are best enjoyed under the shade of a village tree in the heat of a balmy Cypriot summer. Available in specialty coffee shops throughout the country, the dessert is so delicious it has sparked great dispute as to where it actually originates from – Greece, Turkey and Egypt all adamantly lay claim to the dish.

Loukoumades, traditional Cypriot pastry
Loukoumades are always served fresh and hot | © IrinaChevzhik / Shutterstock

Glyko tou koutaliou

Most lunch meals end with a glyko tou koutalou, which literally translates to “spoon sweets” due to the fact that they are the size of a teaspoon. These sweets are made from all kinds of fruit, vegetables and even nuts, that are boiled and then sugared to create the distinctive syrup they are stored in. Local favourites are the walnut, the watermelon and the cherry varieties, which are usually enjoyed with a Cypriot coffee and a glass of water.

Cypriot jars of treats
The sweets are kept glass jars and can last for many months, even years | © Yulia Avanessova / Shutterstock