Cypriot cuisine was influenced by many cultures in the past such as Greek, Arab and Turkish as it was a remarkable colony throughout history. The Ottomans played a major role in shaping the North Cyprus food culture since they ruled the island in 1571.
Turkey’s food culture had a great impact in today’s Turkish Cypriot dishes by bringing in various flavours, recipes and ideas to the island. When we consider the riches of the Turkish Cypriot Cuisine, the characteristics appear to be as mentioned below.
Mediterranean Food Culture and Habits
Island’s traditional food culture and food habits reflect the characteristics of the Mediterranean diet, which typically includes a great consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, moderate amounts of bread and number of grains, beans, nuts and seeds, as well as plenty of olive oil extracted from the island itself which is a great healthy fat source.
Fish and poultry are usually consumed moderately with even lower consumption of red meat in addition to moderate consumption of dairy products and eggs.
The reason Cyprus diet is almost the same as the Mediterranean diet is due to its location, vegetation, ecologic status, the food history and finally the farm industry.
Popular Cypriot Turkish Food
Turkish Cypriots love to eat a lot and value the food more than anything. They have a saying which represents the way of living in Cyprus which is ‘we don’t eat to live, we live to eat’.
Usually, people take their time to eat their food so that they enjoy it yet this also depends on the social aspects of it. For instance, one of the favourite activities people enjoy in Cyprus is to go out dining or even to coffee shops not just for the food and the drinks but also to spend quality time and chit chat with their friends and families.
While local people mostly prefer to eat traditional food there are also a bunch of people who would like to try out different cuisines hence they often visit international restaurants. Below are different examples of traditional Turkish Cypriot food that’s worth noting down in case you visit this beautiful island one day.
Meze is a diverse selection of small appetisers or starters served both hot and cold, usually served progressively before the main meal arrives at the table.
The typical meze consists of green olives in olive oil and garlic, a mixed bowl of fresh-cut salad, hummus, grilled halloumi cheese, stuffed vine leaves seasoned yoghurts and some hot pitta or bread.
Meze is a great way of bringing people together for a good chat and sharing delicious and variety of food whilst having the best dining time with your beloved ones.
Meat is one of the highlights in Cyprus. Cypriot mothers would do anything to put some chicken or lamb into any vegetable dish you can think of, whereas Cypriot dads would cancel all their plans just to have a bbq party over the weekend with their loved ones. In this sense, meat is a valuable social aspect that has been bringing people together since forever.
When considering red meat, numerous dishes appear to be the most popular ones amongst Cypriots. Doner kebab is made by slowly rotating in front of the fire plate on a stick until it’s ready to be cut into slices and to be put into a hot pitta whereas shish kebab is the same as meat skewers cooked on top of the charcoal and also served in pitta bread.
Another delicious meat-based dish is kleftiko that’s typically wrapped in aluminium foil and slowly cooked with potatoes in the charcoal ovens to make it soft and rich in flavour.
Last but not least, sheftali kebabi appears to be another great recipe that is made with mincemeat wrapped inside the membranous tissue of the lamb’s abdomen. I can guarantee that it is as delicious as weird it sounds.
Due to the great location of beautiful Cyprus right in the Mediterranean Sea, fresh fish is always available with a wide range of seafood selection.
Whether you would like to have fish meze or a regular fish menu there are plenty of top restaurants to pick from. From Kyrenia harbour to Bogaz, Karpasia to Famagusta, you can enjoy delicious seafood accompanied by a crystal clear water view literally anywhere around the island.
Calamari, octopus, sea bream, sea bass and the popular goat fish, also known as barbun, are some of the highlights that are recommended for you to try if you haven’t before.
Halloumi is a type of white cheese, typically made from mixing sheep and goat milk together. It can not only be used as a great ingredient for various Cypriot dishes but also eaten on its own either fresh, grilled or fried depending on your choice.
The most famous combinations are watermelon and halloumi on hot summer nights as a light meal or some delicious Halloumi pitta for your afternoon tea or coffee break.
Nor is another soft, white cheese made from goat/sheep milk which resembles ricotta cheese. You can either have it fresh which makes a perfect dessert when combined with some honey, banana and nuts or you can dry and use it as a grated salted cheese on top of your pasta with some dried mint for a life-changing flavour!
This may be heaven on earth. It’s a perfect combination of very thick spaghetti pasta, halloumi cheese, mincemeat and finally the magic ingredient; the Cypriot béchamel sauce. This creamy macaroni dish will leave you nothing but speechless.
Molohiya is a very famous traditional Cypriot dish originated from Egypt. However, Cypriots have their own way of cooking these spinach-looking plant leaves which have a very unique texture and taste. It’s usually cooked with either lamb or chicken and recommended to have it with some fresh onions and some bread on the side. It’s definitely a must-try.
Bamya also known as okra in English, is a type of vegetable which is typically cooked with onions, and any type of meat depending on your choice (lamb, mince, chicken) in a red sauce. You would either love it or hate it yet definitely worth a try. Just add some rice and a glass of refreshing drink to top it off.
You may refer to these as sweet dough balls that are deep-fried and served with some syrup on top. Honestly, out of this world!
Now, this can be the reason why you would want to come back to Cyprus once you leave. This delicious cheesy pastry finds life with the touch of a sweet syrup that will forever change your taste buds. Don’t forget to accompany this piece of heaven with some ice-cream of your choice.
Best Places to Eat in Cyprus
If you’re wondering where you can find all these amazing traditional Cypriot food, here is a list of the best restaurants in Cyprus.
My favourite Cypriot recipe
Cicek Dolması (Stuffed Zucchini Flowers)
These are edible flowers and are cooked the same way we cook stuffed vine leaves. The dish itself may usually be served as meze or starter in the restaurants although local people often have it as a main meal accompanied by some yoghurt.
Dolma in Turkish means ‘stuffed’. While these flowers can be found at farm fresh produce markets, you can also grow them in your backyard and pick them as soon as the petals open. Make sure you try out the recipe below to taste this delicious Cypriot tradition.
Serves 6 people
– A fresh bunch of zucchini flowers (stems removed, washed and dried by a clean towel)
– 1 cup of water
– 2 finely diced medium onions
– 100 ml olive oil
– 2 cups of white rice
– 2-3 tbsp dried mint (or fresh)
– 1 lemon (juice)
– 1 finely diced tomato
– 1tbsp tomato paste
– salt & pepper
- Place all the stuffing into a large bowl and mix all together.
- Stuff the flowers by using either your hands or a small spoon to assist you. Make sure the flowers are full 75% only, so that the rice have enough space to expand whilst cooking.
- When you are done stuffing the flowers, fold the top bit and carefully place them into a saucepan next to each other; ensuring the flowers are fully closed otherwise, the rice might escape outside of the flowers creating a mess.
- Place a small plate to sit on top of the flowers to keep everything in place and add the water on top. Cover the saucepan and leave it to cook slowly with low heat for about 20-30 minutes until the rice is done and the water is evaporated.
- Turn off the stove and leave it to rest for 10 minutes.
- Serve it with some Cypriot yoghurt on the side and enjoy your meal. It can also be stored in the fridge and served cold if preferred.
About the author
Melisa is a Cypriot traveller, and she considers herself a gipsy soul who loves life and eagers to explore new things that life has to offer us. She’s been around the world for some time now and she would love to share her experiences with you all. Anything to do with nature, travelling, nutrition, yoga, spirituality and all kinds of art, count on her!
Instagram – @melisakorucan