Separated from Lebanon by a ribbon of Mediterranean Sea, Cyprus is a close neighbor and popular holiday destination. Two experts, Lebanese Ambassador to Cyprus, Youssef Sadaka, and Cypriot celebrity chef, Roddy Damalis, point visitors in the right direction for an exceptional gastronomic journey
Since assuming his duties in Cyprus in 2013, Ambassador Youssef Sadaka has had the chance to explore the nuances of the local cuisine. “I find many similarities between Lebanese and Cypriot cuisine due to the fact that they were both influenced by Byzantine, French, Italian, Ottoman and Middle Eastern cuisines. There are even similarities in the naming of some dishes, like for example mezze, tahini, moussaka, bamies (Lebanese bemieh), koupes (kebbe), fasolada (fasolia), pourgouri (bulgur), etcetera.” Like Lebanese food, Cypriot cuisine is renowned for its use of fresh products and plenty of Vegetables. Sadaka described some of the country’s culinary specialties, course by course:
“They include tzatziki, tahini, grilled halloumi cheese, and my favorite, taramosalata, which is a dip of fish roe.
Lountza (smoked pork loin) and chiromeri (smoked pork meat in wine).
I like souvla (large pieces of lamb, pork or chicken cooked on a skewer), souvlaki (similar to souvla but smaller pieces, placed in a pita bread with salad and tzatziki), gyros(equivalent to Lebanese shawarma), stifado (beef or rabbit stew with wine, vinegar, onions and spices), moussaka (baked lamb and eggplant covered with bechamel sauce), sheftalia (minced pork, chopped onions, bread crumbs, chopped parsley, white pepper and salt), yemista (stuffed vegetables), and afelia (pork cooked in red wine with coriander seeds).
A very appetizing meat dish is called kleftiko. It is a traditional Cypriot lamb recipe, slowly cooked in a sealed clay oven located outside a Cypriot home or in local tavernas. The dish takes its name from the thieves who used to live up in the mountains, stole lambs and cooked the meat in ceramic pots in the earth below in order to hide the smoke or risk of being seen.
Being a Mediterranean island, Cyprus has of course a lot of fresh seafood dishes to offer, my favorites being calamari (cut into rings and fried in batter or stuffed whole with rice and spices), octopus (made into a stew with red Summer issue 2016 | Taste & Flavors wine), cuttlefish, red mullet, sea bass and sea bream.
During the summer, Cypriots have a light dinner at home, consisting of watermelon and grilled halloumi, while in winter, they like having a warm trahana soup (something similar to the Lebanese kishk, made of cracked wheat, steamed and mixed with sour milk, dried and stored, and then reheated in water or broth, sometimes with added cubes of aged halloumi).
Cyprus has unique offerings like palouzes (jelly made out of grape juice), glyko tou koutaliou (preserves of almond, date, apricot, cherry, walnut, bergamot, etc.), melomakarona (honey cakes), loukoumades (small deep-fried doughnuts with honey syrup), shoushouko (solidified grape juice filled with almonds or walnuts), and the all-time favorite vassilopita (traditional New Year’s cake with one gold coin in it – the person that gets the slice with the coin is said to have good luck all year long). Last but not least, you can find all households in Cyprus making the traditional flaounes (pies containing a variety of cheeses) during Easter.”
According to Roddy Damalis, owner of Ta Piatakia restaurant in Limassol, Cypriot cuisine has been influenced by the very colorful history of the island, having strong Mediterranean roots with touches of the Middle East and Europe.” With so many delicacies to choose from, Damalis is hard pressed to name a favorite dish. “However, I would have to say it is a chicken stew with peas, carrots and artichokes in a rich, aromatic tomato sauce. Made by my mother, of course!” Family appears often in Damalis’ favorite food memories: “My grandmother teaching me how to make her Cypriot coffee at the age of five (having to stand on a stool in order to reach)…. Helping my other grandmother roll dolmades…. The amazing aromas of lamb on the ‘souvla’ (traditional barbeque)…, the craziness and excitement in my restaurant kitchens during service time…, and the joy I experience watching my guests create memories in my restaurant.…” Ever the diplomat, Sadaka doesn’t like to play favorites either. When asked for restaurant suggestions, he replied, “There are so many excellent to choose from, and for all occasions.”
“Cyprus wine production is amongst the world’s oldest, dating back to around 2000 BC. There are over 100 varieties of grapes cultivated in Cyprus, most of
these are in Limassol and Paphos districts and on the foothills of Mount Olympus,” said Ambassador Sadaka, who has tried many Cypriot wines. “The most famous wine is the popular sweet dessert wine called Commandaria, made from the Nama grape variety and dating back a few tens of hundreds of years.” Xynisteri is a local grape used in the production of Commandaria and other sweet wines, as well as for a fruity white to match Cypriot seafood dishes. Local reds include Mavro, Opthalmo and the unique tasting Maratheftiko.
The Cyprus Tourism Organisation suggests wine touring routes on its website, visitcyprus.com, and Limassol hosts an annual Wine Festival, held this year from August 26-September 4.
Roddy Damalis’ restaurant recommendations in Limassol
Damalis’ own restaurant, Ta Piatakia, is known internationally and island-wide for its playful combination of the traditional with the contemporary, and is one of Limassol’s top-rated restaurants.
Where does Damalis like to eat and drink when he’s not at Ta Piatakia?
At the marina, for funky cocktails and contemporary cuisine
In Old Town, for traditional food and live music
A beach front seafood and oyster bar
All day beach front casual dining and drinks
A hip Old Town cocktail bar
In the nearby mountain village of Omodos, for traditional mezze