Cyprus is a country with a rich culinary heritage. Cypriot local cuisine is diverse and covers a very wide range of specialties. Dining in Cyprus is not only an enjoyable experience, it is also a form of old local entertainment.
Three highly popular Cypriot specialties which have been produced on the island, and has been part of the Cyprus cuisine, for centuries have been recognized by the EU as traditional Cypriot products which can only be produced in Cyprus. These are the cheese known as Halloumi, the spirit Zivania, and the dessert wine Commandaria.
Halloumi is a semi-hard white cheese made from goat’s or sheep’s milk. Traditionally, it’s hand made in straw containers, stored in earthenware pots in its natural juices plus a mixture of brine and mint, and matured. It has a fabulous mild yet tangy flavour. It claims to be the only cheese in the world that can be eaten and enjoyed raw or cooked, in any way, shape and form. A very versatile part of the Cyprus cuisine that it can be used in anything from pasta to soup, in a sandwich, with plain watermelon, or fried with eggs and bacon.
Commandaria is a sweet and robust dessert wine. It prides itself on being both the oldest named as well as the oldest in continuous-production wine in the world. Commandaria got its name in 1191, when Richard the Lionheart sold Cyprus to the Order of the Knights Templar. The Templars then settled in the area around the Kolossi Castle, in Kolossi in the Limassol district, and began to produce wine which later on became known as Commandaria after the Commandaries of the knights. The Templars and their successors, the Knights of Saint John, eventually began exporting Commandaria to various areas in Europe. In Cyprus, Commandaria is very popular and is available island wide.
Zivania is an old and traditional Cypriot local drink, distilled from the skins and stalks of local grape varieties using the same technique as centuries ago. Zivania, which is a clear alcohol drink, is very strong and is best served frozen. It goes very well with grilled sausages, Halloumi, dry fruit and nuts. Besides being an aperitif, Zivania is almost as versatile as Halloumi. It has many other uses, from a rubbing alcohol to ease aches and pains to a cleaning agent for glassware.
A meal in a hurry?
In Cyprus, beside ready meals offered by many establishments, there is a local version of the Cyprus cuisine which is not only healthier, but it is also a very tasty alternative to fast food.
These are the traditional Cypriot Kebab (Souvlaki) and the Doner Kebab (Gyros). Souvlaki consists of pork or chicken cubes, skewered and roasted over charcoal fire and served in a large pitta bread with salad, parsley, onions, lemon and Tahini or Pickles. A variation of this is the Mixed Pitta which will include a couple of spicy sausages (Sheftalyia) beside the Souvlaki pork cubes. The Chicken Souvlakia is served with Talattouri or Tzantziki (yoghurt and cucumber mix). Doner kebab consists of slowly cooked thin slices of juicy compressed beef or chicken.
See also: Some traditional Cypriot desserts and sweets.