Turkish Cypriot Food: Traditional dishes to try in North Cyprus

27 Dec 2023
Turkish Cypriot cuisine, a hidden gem of the gastronomic world, boasts a rich tapestry of flavours born from its unique geographical location and vibrant history. Nestled at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa, the cuisine is a harmonious blend of Turkish, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern influences. Rooted in pastoral traditions, the food primarily centres around fresh, locally-sourced ingredients that vary with the seasons.

Key staples include lamb, fish, and a plethora of fruits and vegetables, with many dishes characterised by the use of fragrant herbs and spices such as mint, parsley, cinnamon and coriander. Not to be overlooked are the wonderful cheeses, especially Hellim (known internationally as Halloumi), a semi-hard cheese that is a beloved national specialty. Turkish Cypriot cuisine is a testament to the island's multicultural heritage, offering a tantalising journey for the palate, rich in flavour and tradition.


Turkish meze © Javier Lastras, Flickr, CC2.0
A vital aspect of Turkish Cypriot cuisine is the Meze, a magnificent assortment of small dishes served at the beginning of multi-course meals. From vibrant salads and creamy dips to succulent seafood and grilled meats, each meze dish adds a splash of colour and a burst of flavour to the dining table. Renowned meze options include humus, a smooth blend of chickpeas and tahini, taramasalata, a tangy caviar spread, and hellim, a traditional grilled cheese.

The notion of meze extends beyond food, encapsulating the spirit of Turkish Cypriot hospitality, inviting guests to unwind, engage in meaningful conversation, and savour an array of delightful flavours. The meze is not simply a prelude to the main course but an gastronomic journey in its own right, reflecting the rich tapestry of Turkish Cypriot cuisine.


Turkish kebabs © Josefina Cavizo  CC4.0
In the realm of Turkish Cypriot cuisine, kebabs hold a place of high regard, offering a compelling blend of spices, textures, and tastes. The most known variant is the Şeftali Kebab - a speciality unique to North Cyprus. Named after the Turkish word for 'peach' due to its distinctive shape, Şeftali Kebab is a delicious concoction of minced lamb and spices, wrapped in caul fat. When grilled over charcoal, the fat melts, infusing the meat with an irresistible smoky flavour. Another popular choice is the Lamb Kebab, typically marinated in local herbs and cooked to perfection over an open fire. These kebabs are not only a feast for the palate, but also represent the Turkish Cypriot culture's spirit of community, often enjoyed under the open sky on warm starlit nights, amid laughter and lively conversation.

Potates Köftesi

Potates Köftesi (Turkish potato croquettes) ©
Potates Köftesi, another treasured delight of the Turkish Cypriot cuisine, is a testament to the region's knack for transforming simple ingredients into delectable dishes. Essentially, these are potato croquettes seasoned with herbs and spices. The potatoes are boiled until tender, mashed and allowed to cool slightly. They are then combined with finely chopped onions, parsley, and a blend of traditional spices. This mixture is formed into oval-shaped patties, rolled in breadcrumbs and then fried until golden and crispy. The result is a deliciously comforting dish that boasts a crispy exterior and a soft, flavourful interior - a perfect balance of texture and taste.


Bumbar sausage © Pexels / Enesfi̇lm
Bumbar is another traditional delicacy in Turkish Cypriot cuisine that embodies the culture's affinity for hearty and flavoursome food. Essentially, bumbar is a type of sausage, where instead of a casing, a sheep's intestine is used. The intestine is thoroughly cleaned, then filled with a mixture of rice, onion, and an array of spices before being stitched closed and slowly cooked until tender. The dish, although labour-intensive, is highly prized for its unique texture and rich, robust flavour. Bursting with an amalgamation of different spices, each bite of bumbar offers a delightful gastronomic experience. 


Turkish Börek © Silar CC4.0
Börek, another treasured offering of Turkish Cypriot cuisine, is a savoury pastry that's adored and devoured in equal measure. The filling for börek varies, but it typically includes ingredients such as spinach, minced meat, or cheese, enveloped by thin, flaky layers of yufka dough. A particularly popular variant is the Sigara Böreği, literally meaning 'Cigar Börek', owing to its distinctive cylindrical shape. This version is often packed with a filling of feta cheese, parsley, and sometimes a hint of mint, then rolled and fried until golden and crispy. Whether served as a snack, part of a meze, or a breakfast delicacy, börek brings its distinctive textures and flavours to the table.

Lahmacun ("Turkish pizza')

Turkish Lahmacun © Garrett Ziegler, CC4.0
Lahmacun, often referred to as 'Turkish pizza', is another culinary gem of Turkish Cypriot cuisine that is relished by locals and tourists alike. Remarkably thin, it is a flatbread base topped with a delightful mixture of minced meat - usually beef or lamb - finely chopped vegetables, aromatic herbs, and a medley of traditional spices. The lahmacun is then baked in a high-temperature oven until the base is crispy and the topping is perfectly cooked. It's typically rolled up with a sprinkle of fresh lemon juice, and often garnished with parsley or lettuce, making for an irresistible combination of crunch, zing, and succulent flavour. 


Turkish Pilavuna © Visit North Cyprus
Pilavuna is a traditional Turkish Cypriot pastry that is particularly cherished during festival times. It is essentially a sweet bread filled with a delectable mixture of halloumi cheese, sultanas, and semolina. The bread is soft and pillowy, providing a perfect contrast to the sweet, slightly salty filling. Often enjoyed with a cup of Turkish tea, pilavuna is a delightful treat that beautifully encapsulates the sweet side of Turkish Cypriot cuisine. 


Turkish Cypriot Molohiya © Visit North Cyprus
Molohiya, a distinct dish in Turkish Cypriot cuisine, is a captivating blend of taste and tradition. Named after the Jute leaves, which are central to this dish, they are simmered until tender with a mixture of meat cubes, usually lamb or chicken, and a medley of aromatic spices. The outcome is a thick, hearty stew with a unique viscous texture, contrasting perfectly with the tender meat pieces. The flavour of molohiya is distinctive and cherished, a rich combination of earthy greens and warm, savoury spices. Traditionally served alongside fresh, crusty bread and a wedge of lemon, the dish holds a special place in local culture and is often prepared for communal feasts or family gatherings, symbolising unity and shared heritage.

Fırın Makarnası

Fırın Makarnası ©
Fırın makarnası, translating to 'oven pasta', is another beloved dish in the treasure trove of Turkish Cypriot cuisine. It's a comforting and hearty pasta dish typically made with tubular pasta, minced meat, tomatoes, and a generous layer of cheese. The ingredients are assembled in a baking dish, with the pasta and spiced meat mixture layered alternatively, topped off with a final layer of cheese. The dish is then baked in the oven until the cheese melts and forms a deliciously golden crust, and the flavours mingle to create a mouthwatering taste experience. Served hot from the oven, fırın makarnası showcases the Turkish Cypriot cuisine's talent for transforming simple ingredients into a delectable feast, true comfort food that warms the soul.

Balık (Fish dishes)

In any country, by any name, fried calamari is one of our personal favourites © Siska Maria Eviline CC2.0
Fresh fish dishes form a significant part of Turkish Cypriot cuisine, benefiting from the island's coastal location. One iconic example is balık tava, or pan-fried fish, where fresh catch like sea bream or sea bass is lightly seasoned, coated with flour, and pan-fried to achieve a delightfully crispy skin while ensuring the flesh remains tender and flaky. Another popular seafood dish is kalamar tava, or fried calamari, served with a zesty wedge of lemon and often accompanied by tarator, a creamy garlic and walnut sauce. Alternatively, the balık kebabı is a delicious skewer of marinated fish and vegetables, typically grilled over charcoal for a smoky finish. 


Baklava, the quintessential dessert of Turkish Cypriot cuisine, is a sweet treat revered for its alluring layers of delicate flavour. This decadent pastry is constructed from multiple layers of thin, buttery filo pastry, interspersed with a sweet, nutty filling typically composed of crushed pistachios, walnuts, or almonds. Once baked to a golden crisp, the baklava is then doused in a syrup made from sugar or honey, adding a deliciously sticky sweetness that permeates through each layer. The final result is a tantalising combination of flaky pastry, nutty crunch, and syrupy sweetness that is delightfully satisfying. Enjoyed with a strong Turkish coffee or a glass of cold ayran, baklava is not merely a dessert, but a celebration of culinary artistry.

Raki ('Turkish ouzo')

Yeni Raki is the most ubiquitous brand, but we recommend trying the much smoother Beylerbeyi Göbek if you can find it © Pexels / Oben Kural
Raki, often referred to as 'lion's milk', is a traditional Turkish spirit that holds a significant place in Turkish Cypriot culture and cuisine. Clear in colour, it transforms into a milky white when water is added, thus earning its nickname. Made from twice-distilled grapes and aniseed, Raki has a strong, distinctive flavour and is usually served chilled. Its aniseed notes make it a perfect accompaniment to seafood dishes, particularly with fresh fish meals such as Balık Tava. The ritual of preparing and savouring Raki, along with the convivial atmosphere it fosters, is integral to the cultural fabric of Turkish Cyprus. It's not just an alcoholic beverage, but a symbol of Turkish hospitality and tradition, savoured in small sips throughout a meal or a friendly gathering.

Read more about the Turkish Cypriot cuisine, and how it differs from the mainland varity, here.


Connect via social media
google sign in button
Leave a comment using your email This e-mail address is not valid
Please enter your name*

Please share your location

Enter your message*
This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Find out more here. AGREE