Greek Cypriot Food: Traditional dishes to try in Cyprus

19 Dec 2023
Greek Cypriot cuisine is a tantalising fusion of Greek and Middle Eastern influences, showcasing a cornucopia of flavourful and heartily satisfying dishes. Central to the cuisine are meze, small plates of various dishes that are often shared among diners, including halloumi cheese, sheftalia sausages, and an assortment of dips like tzatziki and taramasalata.

The traditional Cypriot diet leans heavily on fresh vegetables, pulses, grilled meats, and seafood, all seasoned with a host of aromatic herbs and spices. Not to be forgotten is the delicious array of pastries and desserts, such as baklava and galaktoboureko, which are often enjoyed with a cup of strong, thick Cypriot coffee.


Greek Cypriot Food: Souvlaki © Public Domain
Souvlaki, a popular dish both in Cyprus and Greece, is a delightful manifestation of Mediterranean culinary simplicity and flavour. It typically comprises small skewers of marinated pork or chicken, grilled to perfection and served with a warm pita, fresh salads, and a generous dollop of tzatziki sauce. The meat, often marinated overnight in a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, and aromatic herbs, is tender and succulent, with a wonderful charred exterior that adds a smoky complexity to its flavour profile. Whether enjoyed as a quick street food snack or as part of a larger meze spread, souvlaki is a true embodiment of the zestful and hearty characteristics of Greek Cypriot cuisine.

Sheftalia sausages

Greek Cypriot Food: Sheftalia sausages © G-Lignum, CC BY-SA 4.0
Sheftalia sausages are a delightful staple in Greek Cypriot cuisine, often savoured alongside other meze dishes or enjoyed in a warm pita bread. These small, cylindrical sausages are traditionally prepared with a mix of minced pork or lamb, onions, parsley, and a blend of spices, all encased in a thin layer of caul fat, which melts away during grilling, imparting a unique and mouthwatering flavour to the sausages. The result is a delectably juicy and aromatic sausage, slightly charred from the grill, that perfectly embodies the hearty simplicity and richness of Cypriot culinary traditions.

Halloumi cheese

Greek Cypriot Food: Halloumi cheese © CTO Zurich / Flickr CC2.0
Halloumi cheese is a treasured component of the Greek Cypriot culinary repertoire, revered for its distinctive taste and texture. This semi-hard, unripened cheese is traditionally made from a mixture of sheep's and goat's milk, although some variants also incorporate cow's milk. Halloumi has a high melting point, enabling it to retain its shape when grilled or fried, unlike most cheeses. This characteristic makes it particularly popular in cooking, where it acquires a delectable golden brown crust with a soft and slightly elastic interior. Its taste is uniquely savoury and mildly salty, which pairs beautifully with the freshness of mint leaves, often used in its preparation or garnishing. Whether it's served as a standalone dish, incorporated into salads, or skewered and grilled, Halloumi lends an authentic Cypriot flair to any meal.


Greek Cypriot Food: Afelia marinated pork © James / Flickr, CC-NC-ND-2.0
Afelia is another brilliant highlight of Greek Cypriot cuisine, a pork dish marinated in an aromatic blend dominated by coriander. The process typically involves marinating cubes of pork in crushed coriander seeds, red wine, garlic, and other local spices, allowing the meat to soak up these flavours for several hours, or even overnight. The marinated pork is then slowly cooked until tender, the heat teasing out the flavours embedded in the meat, creating a dish that is robust and deeply satisfying. The earthy, slightly citrusy note of the coriander seeds imparts a unique taste to the pork, resulting in a fine balance of flavours. Served with warm, fresh bread and a side of local olives, afella is a true testament to the culinary ingenuity and rich flavours of Greek Cypriot cuisine.


Greek Cypriot Food: Tzatziki © bionicgrrrl / Flickr CC-NC-ND-2.0
Tzatziki is a beloved component of Greek Cypriot cuisine, often served as a dip with a variety of dishes or used as a refreshing sauce in gyros and souvlaki. It's a creamy concoction traditionally made with strained yogurt, grated cucumbers, garlic, olive oil, and a hint of fresh dill or mint. The result is a tangy, garlicky, and somewhat zesty dip with a cool and refreshing aftertaste, thanks to the cucumber. It's a perfect counterbalance to the robust flavours of grilled meats and rich stews, lending a refreshing, palate-cleansing note to any meal. Tzatziki's simplicity and versatility make it a staple in not just Greek Cypriot, but Mediterranean cuisine as a whole.


Greek Cypriot Food: Baklava © Isabelle Hurbain-Palatin / Flickr, CC2.0
Baklava is an integral part of Greek Cypriot gastronomy, a dessert that is as visually appealing as it is deliciously satisfying. Made with layers of delicate, ultra-thin filo pastry, interspersed with a mixture of finely chopped nuts, predominantly almonds, walnuts, or pistachios, and bound together with a sweet, fragrant syrup. The filo pastry is brushed with melted butter before it is baked to a golden perfection, resulting in a dessert that is simultaneously crisp, sweet, and delectably nutty. Each bite delivers a delightful crunch, followed by the sweetness of the syrup and the rich, earthy flavours of the nuts. Post baking, the baklava is generously doused with honey or sweet syrup, often infused with a touch of cinnamon and clove. This Cypriot version of baklava, while shared with other parts of the Mediterranean and Middle East, is distinguished by its generous use of local honey and a penchant for cinnamon, lending it a distinctively Cypriot charm.


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