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Cyprus: Ingredients Meet Ingenuity

For Cypriots the practice of sourcing products locally is not a trend but a long-standing culinary tradition.

The all-star cast includes olives, lemon, mint, and Halloumi cheese. Carob sauce is made from the carob plant, which grows wild here, and mastic, the sap of a native tree, is emerging as a signature  flavor. Pork and chicken are the favorite animal proteins, despite the island’s reputation for savoring goat meat. And indigenous wine varietals such as Xynisteri and Maratheftiko have their place both on the table and in the cooking pot. Whether they stick to tradition or venture toward unusual representation of their national cuisines, chefs from this 9,250-square-kilometer island in the eastern Mediterranean have one thing in common: they are devoted to their island’s unique ingredients. Combined in beautifully different ways, traditional products present guests and other chefs with unlimited  flavor combinations.

Pezema, Agros
The kitchen of the Pezema tavern in Agros village is popular with locals and tourists. Guests are greeted by white-coated and aproned owner Andreas Gerasiotis and his father, Panagiotis. Gerasiotis serves meze, short for mezedhes or “little delicacies,” that embody the essence of the island. “I believe that every tourist who comes to Cyprus and to our village wants to taste the traditional products and cooking and not food that he can have in his country,” he explains. “So I try to use as many Cyprus products as I can and present to my customers dishes that are as good in quality as in quantity.”

A set of 15 dishes begins with olives. (Green cracked olives and sometimes black olives are served at the beginning of every meal in Cyprus, even breakfast.) Next come tzatziki, made with yogurt, cucumber, garlic, olive oil, and salt, accompanied by bread for dipping. The traditional village salad of romaine lettuce, oregano, cucumber, tomato, feta cheese, and caper leaves is next. This is followed by smoked ham, called lunza, which is produced in the village of Agros, and by grilled vegetables with grilled Halloumi cheese. Dishes of courgettes with eggs, reminiscent of an Italian omelet, and potatoes with wine appear one at a time before the grand  finale: chicken and pork souvla, tender and  flavorful. At the end of the meal, there’s fresh fruit and coffee, according to the Mediterranean tradition. 


Flavours Restaurant, Limmasol

The south shore of Cyprus has become tastefully yet heavily developed as a holiday resort area since the Turkish invasion made the northern tourist towns less accessible in 1974. Chef Pambos Charalambous has watched the growth and contributed to it. Today he is maintaining and updating traditional dishes for Flavours Restaurant at the Elias Beach Hotel. “My goal is to use good-quality Cypriot products. The healthier, the better.”

In the patio kitchen Charalambous, assisted by Nicos Mavratsas, demonstrates Halloumi Ravioli with Fresh Mint, Cherry Tomatoes, and Portico. “We have ravioli from the Venetians,” he explains. In 1489 Cyprus was ceded to the Republic of Venice by Queen Caterina Cornaro. As a result ravioli was made a part of traditional Cypriot cuisine.

The chefs mix, knead, and roll out the light golden dough. They prefer to stamp out ravioli with a drinking glass, to stuff it, and to seal the edges with a fork, rather than using ravioli specific tools. They boil ravioli in chicken broth while cherry tomatoes roll around in an olive-oiled skillet. All are plated together and garnished with fresh mint. Charalambous declares, “We have an authentic vegetarian Mediterranean dish.” A local wine, KEO’s Xynisteri—the main white varietal of Cyprus—is fermented at low temperatures for a balanced acidity, which accentuates the  flavors in the ravioli.


Fat Fish Restaurant, Limmasol
This trendy beachfront establishment opened in May 2008, and is the brainchild of four chef/co-owners who collaborated to make something new of the innumerable ingredients Cyprus offers. Chef/Owner George Agrotis explains, “The  first time we sat down at the table, four of us, we said, ‘We’ve got to move a little bit ahead of what’s going on in Cyprus . . . going for a modern touch, going global.’”

One way they have ushered the future is with the pork loin and kolokasi. Agrotis explains, “We have all of the traditional ingredients, but the parts are separated and arranged and garnished. The sophisticated diner can combine the elements as he likes from his own plate and pair each flavor or combination with a favorite local wine.” Atop the thick pumpkin-colored sauce are three pieces of pork tenderloin, which have been seared in local olive oil, seasoned with fresh thyme, glazed with butter, and roasted for eight minutes. Braised kolokasi, a local root vegetable related to taro, accompanies the pork. Carob sauce made with chopped chives, parsley, bacon, and juniper berry is drizzled on. Finally, Agrotis  garnishes the plate with the island’s signature mastic whipped cream and celery leaves. A dry Mataro rosé from the Kyperounda Winery pairs well with the pork and the cream.

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It is always best when the ingredients are sourced locally - Steve Surgeon