Relax and slip into the Cypriot pace of life. Why not take a seat by the sea, under a vine or mimosa tree and sip your first brandy sour, or ouzo. Nibble on a nut or even better, pass the time with a handful of sunflower seeds or passatempo, as the Cypriots call them. Just sniff Cyprus and you could become intoxicated by the tang of fresh lemons and the delicate citrus blossom, the wholesome smell of freshly baked bread or fermenting grapes from the wine harvest.
Cypriots, as you will soon discover, are a naturally hospitable people and generous to the extreme, in a way that is so much part of the Mediterranean.
Cyprus lies at the crossroads of the Levant, as this eastern end of the Mediterranean is known. Just take a glance at its history and you will see how various empires, invasions, foreign settlers and traders over the past 3,000 years have brought their influence to Cyprus. They have also brought their recipes and many of these have been introduced into Cypriot cooking, with the main influences coming from Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Lebanon, Syria, Italy, France, and latterly Britain.
Time to Visit a Taverna
Eating out to catch some local flavour is always the high spot of the holiday, but where do you start when faced with the Cypriot menu at your local taverna?
In the course of your stay it is quite possible to try everything and taste all the dishes at one sitting.
Meze is short for mezedhes, or little delicacies, and wherever you travel around the Mediterranean they appear in some form or another. Share a meze in Cyprus and you have tasted the true flavours of the island, for you may be served anything up to 30 dishes. It is a complete meal, but beware, don't be tempted to finish every dish that arrives on the table, or you may feel as though you' ve eaten for a week by the end. Just take a leaf out of a Cypriot's book and enjoy your meze 'siga siga' or slowly slowly.
Well, the decision has be made and your meze is ordered - what can you expect to eat? First come the olives, black and green (elies) tsakistes with a dressing of lemon, garlic, herbs, coriander seeds and oil.
Dips of tahini, skordalia, taramosalata, and talattouri arrive with a basket of fresh village bread and a bowl of salata horiatiki or village salad.
Octapodi krasato (octopus in red wine), karaoli yahni (snails in tomato sauce), zelatina, prawn and pickles of capers, kappari and pickled cauliflower, moungra, are some of the unusual meze dishes that may arrive next.
Bunches of greens, some raw, some dressed with lemon juice and salt such as carrots and kohlrabi, and some tossed in oil and bound with egg may also fit into your meze.
Fish of some kind could be next on the menu. Marida, tiny sardine type fish or barbouni, red mullet which are usually served very small, and kalamari or rings of squid buttered and deep fried, accompanied with chunks of fresh lemon.
Grilled halloumi cheese and lountza, smoked pork, come next followed by keftedes (meat balls), the popular sheftalia, grilled pork (brissoles) and loukanika, smoked Cyprus sausages.
Now it's time for the composite dishes of casseroles such as afelia, moussaka and stifado.
Towards the end of the meal come the kebabs or souvlakia, the ofto kleftiko (meat baked in a sealed oven), as well as pieces of chicken, arriving straight from the grill.
But perhaps you are beginning to feel full now... No surprise - you've survived your first meze!
Sit back content in the knowledge that little else is to follow. Just some fresh fruit, carefully prepared and segmented and, well, perhaps just a few sugar dredged bourekia pastry filled with fresh curd cheese and honey.
No more... do I hear you beg?
These foreign flavours have combined with the food produced on the island to give Cyprus its own traditional cuisine. Its turbulent past has made Cyprus self-sufficient and in rural areas Cypriot families still produce everything they need, from pourgouri (cracked wheat) to cheese, home baked bread and smoked cured pork. Not so long ago the grain, oil and wine were stored in Pitharia , those enormous onion shaped terracotta pots that adorn the countryside. The island has always produced a huge variety of food due to its fine climate. In fact everyday foods such as figs, beans chick peas, bitter herbs, olives, dates, almonds and nuts date back to the Bible.
The Cypriots cook with less oil than their Mediterranean neighbours and their diet is a healthy one, apart from their love of syrup and soaked pastries! Everything is cooked fresh, daily, and the quality of the production is superb, due no doubt to the motto of the Cypriot housewife...
'If it isn't we don't want it.'
If you are in a hurry, then you can find fast food in the shape of a pitta bread envelope filled with souvlakia (kebab) and salad, but slow food is more the order of the day in Cyprus. After all, why rush when there is time to enjoy your meal.