What does one do when working in Cyprus for a week? Spend every free hour tasting your way through the Mediterranean island's abundantly delicious cuisine of course! Here are my top Cypriot finds:
I feel utterly ashamed that I only found out halloumi was a Cypriot cheese on visiting Cyprus. I had assumed it was a cheese that originated in the Arab world seeing as it is so regularly found on the menu in any country you visit in the Levant.
The brined cheese made from a mix of sheep and goat's milk and known for its distinct squeaky texture when grilled or fried may soon be deemed a Protected Designation of Origin cheese - which means many more people will soon probably learn that it can ONLY be considered true halloumi cheese if it is made in Cyprus.
The halloumi I ate at Lofou village in the Troodos mountains was honestly the best I had ever tasted - delicately balanced sweet and salty flavours, a texture with great bite and just perfect for breakfast with warm bread and home-made fig and tart pomegranate preserves... mmmmm.... I would go back to Cyprus just to eat that cheesy breakfast again.
Commandaria has the distinction of being the oldest named wine still in production, referenced during the Crusades of the 12th century and believed to have been produced as early as 800BC. This sweet golden coloured wine is made exclusively from local Cypriot grape varieties Xynisteri and Mavro that have been left to over-ripen on the vine before being sun dried to concentrate their sugar content further. The wine is a fortified wine and retains a high sugar and alcohol content as a result. Commandaria is also a Protected Designation product and is exclusively produced in 14 villages located in the foothills of the Troodos mountains.
I had my first taste of this sweet wine at the small but interesting Commandaria Museum located in Silikou - one of the above mentioned 14 villages - which we stumbled across while driving through the mountains over a weekend. The sweet wine best accompanies rich and salty flavours - like a creamy blue cheese or a pork pate.
These plump, juicy little sausages of lamb and pork meat, tossed with onion and parsley and wrapped in a lacy casing of caul fat, are some of the most delicious kebab-like creations I've ever eaten. The caul fat (which is basically fatty stomach lining that is used like a sausage casing) when placed on the grill drips into the fire, causing flares of flames that render and crisp up the exterior of these delicious little meat parcels leaving the outside beautifully brown while the inside stays unbelievably moist.
The best ones I ate were in a charming little taverna just off the main drag in Larnaca called Stou Rousha, with wooden tables with chequered tableclothes set up in a narrow lane sheltered with a simple awning and vines - perfect spot for a delicious late dinner.
If you love seafood you will definitely not go hungry in Cyprus! In fact there is very little chance you would go hungry no matter what in Cyprus, but the island's love for seafood goes beyond what I've seen in most places. From obligatory taramasalata that slides onto your table before you've had a chance to peruse the extensive menu, to grilled calamari and tender octopus served with freshly squeezed lemon, crispy deep-fried soft shell crab, pickled mussels, crunchy fried sardines and red mullet, plump lobster, sweet shrimp... I could go on... let's just say your Cyprus wardrobe had better leave you some room to grow after all the eating you will be doing... because you definitely will grow!
I ate my fair share of seafood in Cyprus but will say Pyxida Fish Tavern in Limassol outdid itself with the freshness and variety of fish mezze on offer the two times I paid it a visit.
Flavorsome local fruits and vegetables
I realised I missed seeing fruit growing on trees when I visited Cyprus... we don't get to see much of that in Dubai. April and May back home in Goa means an abundance of fruit-laden mango, jackfruit and breadfruit trees... in Cyprus it meant street upon street of trees bursting with lemons and oranges, I couldn't get enough of them! It seems it's not just the typical Mediterranean produce that grows easily in Cyprus, I tasted some pretty juicy tropical fruit cultivated in private gardens in Paphos which was a pleasant surprise.
Local vegetables also get treated very inventively in Cypriot cuisine, I ate some very good examples of roasted aubergine and squash in Limassol's tavernas as well as at Apokryfo - a beautiful little B&B tucked into the hills of Lofou village that is known for its lovingly prepared food and stylishly curated interiors - definitely worth a trip for a special meal.
Top tip: The Troodos mountains are home to dozens of charming little villages like Lofou, many of which have small wineries and produce a variety of delicious bites made from local Mediterranean produce like carob seed bread, fruit leather and sugar drenched loukamades to eat with your Cypriot coffee. There's also delicious local lamb and river trout to look forward to as well as plenty of easy-drinking locally produced wine served by the generous carafe. Make time to stay in one of the pretty renovated stone villages that dot the hillsides, where you can rent your own rustic cottage complete with working fireplaces and pretty vine-sheltered courtyards - you won't regret it!
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