With more than 300 days of sunshine a year, endless coastlines with stretches of beautiful beach, crystal clear waters and picturesque mountains, Cyprus is a dream destination. And when it comes to the island’s culinary scene, you’ll never want to wake up. When you’re considering what to do in Cyprus, a good bet is to start with eating and see where the day takes you from there.
The food of Cyprus
As with most Mediterranean countries, in Cyprus, food plays a pivotal role and is often at the centre of gatherings with friends and family. Meals are a social event and meant to be savoured and enjoyed at a slow and leisurely pace. “Siga, siga” meaning “slowly, slowly” is a popular Greek phrase and mantra that you should adopt immediately upon arriving. Remember the mantra at every meal—even over a cup of coffee.
There are two ways of making the most of the island’s culinary scene: eating out, or staying in and preparing a meal yourself. Depending on your accommodation, the latter isn’t always possible but in that case, try to make friends with locals and you might just get lucky and score an invite for dinner.
First, the Meze
The best way to experience Cypriot food is by sharing a traditional meze, a selection of small dishes served at every meal. A mix-and-match of flavours and foods, the meze is considered a meal in itself but allows you to sample all of the island’s traditional dishes at once. Although a meze will often reflect seasonal offerings, popular dishes include halloumi cheese, moussaka, sheftalia (homemade sausages), afelia (marinated diced pork), tahini and olives.
Eating Out in Cyprus
Do as most locals do: avoid flashy tourist haunts—they tend to be expensive anyway—and look for charming hidden places where they serve “proper Cypriot food,” as my Cyprian friend calls it. She also let me in on another dining secret; there are only two types of restaurants in Cyprus: those that cater to tourists and those that do not.
The best and most authentic meals (a.k.a. “proper Cypriot food”) are the ones you’ll come across at the local tavern in the village. The tavern’s host will take your order and then, most likely head out to the family’s backyard to pick fresh herbs for your meal. For the full experience, forget a menu exists (sometimes it doesn’t) and ask the host for recommendations.
You can’t go wrong with most local taverns but some of the best ones include Melitzia Taverna in the village of Tala just outside of Paphos that does an excellent meze; Militzis restaurant in Larnaca where you must have the slow-roasted lamb and bougouri (Cypriot bulgur) and potatoes; and Pyxida Fish Tavern in Nicosia.
Because many taverns don’t have addresses posted, researching ahead will be tough. Your best bet is to rent a car and drive around until you come across a tavern in a village.
Try the food of Cyprus at home
If there’s anywhere to indulge in a home-cooked meal, it’s in Cyprus. Fresh produce, fish and seafood from the morning catch are all delivered to the markets daily so if you have the means to cook, you won’t regret spending a little time making a meal (little being the key word as Cyprians keep things simple). Create your own meze with halloumi, olives and dolmades (grapevine leaves stuffed with minced lamb, rice and herbs and spices) from the market, throw fresh fish on the grill, sprinkle it with some spices, add freshly squeezed lemon juice and enjoy!
My thanks for this article written by Malwina Gudowska and brought to you by Monarch Airlines. If her tales of fresh-off-the-grill fish and slow-roasted lamb made you hungry, book one of Monarch’s package holidays and savour Cyprus for yourself.
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