The first thing you have to do as soon as you land in Cyprus and the pangs of hunger are felt, is head to the local taverna and sit down for a meze.
Meze is not simply a meal but a ritual shedding light on Cypriot mentality. Sit down, relax with a couple of mates and get ready to be bombarded with plate after plate of the island’s delicacies and their different tastes. It is definitely the best way to enjoy the widest variety of local dishes and all in one meal. Siga, siga – take it slowly, there’s a lot more from where that came from!
Meze, or mezedes, consists of a large selection of bite-size dishes of varied food which can either be meat or fish based. They are brought to the table in a series of tastes and textures a couple of plates at a time. Although different tavernas serve different dishes, the most popular are the following. Generally, the meal starts off with black and green olives, some dips (consisting of tahini, hummus, and tzatziki) served with warm pitta bread and a fresh salad.
In a meat meze, lountza (smoked pork tenderloin), sheftalia (grilled rissole made of pork, lamb, onions and parsley), and a variety of sausages follow. Towards the end, souvlaki (skewered grilled meat) and other hot grilled meats are served consisting of pork, lamb and chicken. A big pot of yoghurt and a couple of lemons are to be enjoyed with the meats. The meats are also accompanied with plates of grilled halloumi cheese (Cypriot traditional cheese made from sheep or goat’s milk), koupepia (stuffed grape leaves), fried zucchini with scrambled eggs. On the other hand, should you go for a fish meze you will be served with an array of plates of octopus, sardines, calamari, white bait, king prawns, broiled fish and taramosalata (fish roe dip). Dessert typically consists of fresh fruit or the traditional glyka which is sugar-preserved fruits and nuts.
If the small portions have deceived you at the beginning of the meal, I am sure that by the end of it you are gasping for air. Food is served in abundance and it is not expected that everything is eaten. Wash it all down with a pint of the local Keo beer or some Cypriot coffee.