Meze and the Wine of Kings
The Cypriot cuisine is known all around the world for its unique flavour and mind-blowing scents! Cypriots love food so it is not a surprise that the country’s cuisine is so important to the island’s culture. Cyprus’ geographical position and history has resulted in a very interesting merge of culinary influences making traditional “meze" which is served in all Cypriot taverns a unique culinary experience consisting of numerous little dishes with a slight taste of just about everything from around the world!
Let’s explore what a “meze” actually is. Imagine a joyful group of friends or relatives, sitting around the table, talking and laughing loudly, while tasting delicious little dishes, served gradually as a progression of tastes and textures. From halloumi (Cypriot cheese made from sheep or goat milk) and tahini (sesame sauce with lemon and garlic, typically used as a dip), to ofto kleftiko (lamb simmered in foil) and souvlaki (grilled meat kebab), each little dish leaves you wanting to try more! That’s what “meze” is all about!
What’s even more popular amongst Cypriots is the famous “souvla”. Souvla is either pork, chicken or lamb roasted on a spit, over the traditional “foukou” – the Cyprus barbeque. A real joy for men in Cyprus, who love gathering around the foukou with a chilled beer in hand, tasting the meat until it’s ready to be served!
What would a hearty meal be without accompanying deserts?! The variety and unparalleled taste of traditional Cypriot deserts is truly unique to the island. There’s “daktila” (“ladies fingers”). Daktila are finger-shaped strudel pastry filled with a nut-cinnamon mixture and soaked in delicious syrup. Highly recommended if you have a sweet tooth! Same goes for “loukoumades”: deep-fried balls of choux pastry served in syrup. Imagine them as Cyprus’ version of small doughnuts. Sounds delicious right? Then there’s “glyka tou koutaliou” (spoon sweets). These are sweet preserves of fruits, vegetables or walnuts, maintained in syrup and served with a glass of water, as a gesture of hospitality. “Glyka tou koutaliou” took their name from their serving size, which is a well-filled teaspoon. You’ll be astonished with the rich variety of fruits and vegetables available as spoon sweets in Cyprus. From fig to watermelon, from citrus to rose, a MUST for epicureans looking for something different.
You would think that a typical Cypriot meal ends with desert. A guest can’t leave the meze table without being offered coffee. The strong and aromatic traditional Cyprus coffee is served hot, in small coffee cups, and comes in four different layers of sweetness. If you hear someone in a tavern ordering “ena sketto”, this literally means “a black coffee with no sugar.” Similarly, “ena metrio” means medium sweet (one teaspoon of sugar), while “ena glyky” means a sweet coffee. The fourth category is a very sweet coffee, “varys glykys”, for those who love sweet tastes a little bit more than others! Always keep in mind that the sign of a good cup of coffee is its “kaimaki” – a creamy frothy top layer!
Then there’s Cyprus’ traditional alchoholic beverages, some being the most ancient in the world in kind! Make sure to try “Zivania” - a strong local hooch, which is a distillate produced from a mixture of grape pomace and local dry wine. With a long history dating back to the 14th century, zivania is protected under EU regulations as a product unique to Cyprus! It’s usually served in shots during winter, when relatives and friends gather together at home, or at a tavern for a “meze” meal. This drink is characterized as a drink for the brave, with its typical alcohol content being around 45%!
Last, but not least, comes the wine of Kings “Commandaria”. This legendary sweet desert wine has a long and rich history, dating back to the time of ancient Greece, when poet Hesiod first described it as “Cypriot manna”. During the time of the Crusades, Commandaria was served at the wedding of King Richard the Lionheart, who declared it as “the wine of kings and the king of wines”! With a protected designation of origin within the EU, the USA and Canada, Commandaria is only produced in 14 neighbouring villages of Cyprus, in the so-called “Commandaria region” of the island, situated on the foothills of theTroodos Mountains.
This is Cyprus. An island of gastronomic pleasures, where hospitality blends harmoniously with traditional dishes, unparalleled deserts and unique beverages dipped in history and culture – a seamless mix that remains unforgettable however many times you visit the island!