Cyprus Meze | “Kopiaste” to a Cyprus Meze

The phrase “Kopiaste Geia Meze ” in Greek stands for: “Welcome, come in and join us for Cyprus Meze”. The unique geographical position of Cyprus, at the crossroads of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, has added exotic dimensions and a rich variety to the Cypriot cuisine. Walk through any market place in Cyprus and you can feast your eyes on a colourful collection of fresh produce available to homes and restaurants alike. As you stroll among stalls selling cheeses, pulses, nuts and garlic, the aromatic perfumes of wild marjoram, basil and rosemary pervade the air, mingling with the baser, more pungent smell of olive oil. Glossy, dark-skinned aubergines, pimentos, enormous red tomatoes, green and black olives, melons, figs, tangerines and limes, piled high on every stall, compete for custom in vivid contrast, amidst smooth-skinned oranges, lemons and grapefruits. One glance at the busy throng should convince you that good quality produce is all important in the local cooking. Cyprus lies at the crossroads of three continents, Europe, Asia and Africa , and its strategic position and natural wealth have attracted many powers over the centuries. All have left their mark on the island’s character and culture, but it is the Greek influence which is strongest, and Cyprus is predominantly Greek to this day including much of its cuisine. Moussaka, Souvlakia, and Kleftiko will be familiar fare to anyone who has visited Greece or Cyprus, but to the newcomer the best introduction to Cypriot cooking must be the Meze. It is a meal consisting of a selection of local dishes, from delicious dips and vegetables to a variety of fish and meats. As a main meal the Meze usually comprises between 20 and 30 plates of food so even the fuzziest of eaters will not fail to find something to their liking. Meze not only introduces the uninitiated to many Cypriot delicacies but is also extremely good value for money, costing somewhere in the region of €17.00 to €20.00. Before embarking on this gourmand experience, however, it is advisable for all but the most voracious of eaters, to follow certain guidelines:- a) make sure you have worked up a healthy appetite, and b) take all things in moderation or you won’t stay the course! Siga, siga (slowly, slowly) as the Greeks would say. To give you an idea of what to expect, Meze is likely to start with tasty dip-type salads like Tahini, a smooth and creamy paste made from sesame meal; Talattouri, cool refreshing mint and cucumber flavoured yoghourt with a sprinkling of garlic; Taramosalata, fish roe blended into a pale pink creamy dip and mixed with parsley, lemon juice and finely chopped onion to enhance the taste of the roe; and Hoummous, an Arabic dish combining the flavours of chick peas, sesame paste, olive oil, pepper and parsley.

It is customary to dip pitta bread, or the locally made white bread into these dishes. More plates of food arrive with amazing rapidity and the ‘starters’ are soon accompanied by small dishes of vegetables; potatoes in lemon and oil, pickled cauliflower, beetroot, olives, mixed salad; and fetta, a sharp tasting soft cheese made from goats’ milk.

The traditional Cypriot Meze, which means “little delicacies”, could consist of as many as 30 small plates of savoury dips and vegetables and a wide range of fish and meat dishes cooked in several different ways. In contrast to Hors d’oeuvres, Meze comprises the main meal itself.

A Meze is meant to be lingered over, so take it slowly and savour the subtle flavours which make up each dish: Loukanika, Cypriot sausages made from meat seasoned with coriander seeds; Sheftalia: sausage-shaped meat balls wrapped in caul; and Dolmades, vine leaves stuffed with minced meat and rice. All arrive in quick succession, followed by mouth-watering Lountza, smoked pork fillet marinated in red wine and coriander seeds; and grilled halloumi, a soft goats’ cheese, delicately flavoured with mint. Your appetite, by this time, is likely to have diminished in direct relation to the number of empty dishes scattered on the table. The main course dishes are just about to arrive. A selection of Octopus and Squid, whitebait, Tuna or Barbounia (red mullet) are lined up for you, followed up by succulent portions of chicken and the ubiquitous souvlakia (Kebab). Moussaka, the ever popular traditional Greek dish of minced meat and aubergine topped with creamy béchamel sauce, has yet to be sampled, along side Afelia, pork cooked in wine and coriander seed, Stiphado (a stew of beef or hare casseroled slowly with wine vinegar, onions and spices, and sometimes even quails. The law of diminishing returns will by now be fully operational and you may feel you can not cope with another mouthful. After a brief respite however, when you are presented with a colourful array of fresh fruit: juicy oranges, plantains, figs, melon, grapes or whatever is in season, you may wish to refresh your palate! The experience would not be complete without a Cypriot coffee and some Cypriot delight to round off the meal. To accompany the coffee (described as ‘sweet as sin, hot as hell, and dark as night’) try one of the excellent locally blended liqueurs, such as the lovely, orange flavoured Filfar. If you have a small appetite don’t be daunted by what you have just read. Anyone of the ‘main course’ dishes already mentioned is well worth tasting. A favourite with Cypriots and visitors alike is kleftiko, chunks of lamb cooked in a sealed clay oven and seasoned with bay leaves and origanum. Whatever you choose, the portion will be a generous one! Eating out in Cyprus is not just a social event, it’s almost a way of life. Local restaurants have a high standard of hygiene and the quality of the food is superb. European style food is also available in many hotels and restaurants and there are assorted Chinese and Indian restaurants if you decide you want a change of diet. Praise a particular dish which takes your fancy and any Cypriot will be delighted to tell you how it is made should you wish to impress the folks back home. Equally holiday makers in self-catering holiday villas can have great fun trying their hand at the local cuisine, especially with the ingredients so readily available. Don’t be shy about asking how to prepare some of the more unusual fruit and vegetables. Enquire at any greengrocer’s or market stall and a chorus of voices will be raised in an effort to describe the whys and wherefores of local produce! Cyprus produces a good selection of table wines which are very reasonably priced and can complement any meal. Commandaria, a sweet, fortified, dessert wine is unique to Cyprus . It was originally produced by the Knights of St. John at Kolossi in the Middle Ages and is reminiscent of mediaeval wine. Cyprus sherries also have long been famous and now encompass the full range from pale, dry fino to full-bodied cream sherries. The Cypriot aperitif Zivania, with its strong aniseed flavour, is refreshing in warm weather, and the locally produced lager “Keo” is an excellent thirst quencher. Brandy sour, however is to me synonymous with Cyprus, a delicious concoction combining equal quantities of brandy and fresh lemon juice, with a dash of Angostura bitters, and topped with ice and soda. Cypriots are renowned for their hospitality and visitors to the island of Aphrodite, as Cyprus is frequently called, are likely to hear the word “Kopiaste” many times during their stay.

The traditional Cypriot Meze which means “little delicacies” could consist of as many as 30 small plates of savoury dips and vegetables and a wide range of fish and meat dishes.

“Kopiaste” to a taste of Cyprus Meze

One characteristic of eating in Cyprus is Meze. Meze is also a key aspect of the traditional Cypriot hospitality. Therefore “Kopiaste” to a Meze. Meze is an abbreviation of Mezedes, which means “little delicacies”. Some restaurants and tavernas offer their customers the choice of seafood Meze or meat Meze or mixed. The traditional Cypriot Meze could consist of as many as 30 small plates of savoury dips and vegetables and a wide range of fish and meat dishes. In contrast to hors d’oeuvres, Meze often comprise the main meal itself. Below, is a description of some of the dishes which are included in a Meze meal:

Taramosalata: Fish roe blended into a creamy pink dip of pureed potatoes with olive oil, parsley, lemon juice and finely chopped onion.

Houmous: A dish combining crushed chic peas, sesame paste, olive oil and finely chopped parsley.
Crushed Olives: Crushed green olives with coriander, garlic and fresh lemon.
Tzantziki: Mixture of yogurt with finely cut garlic, cucumber, olive oil and a little pepper.
Tahini dip: Crushed sesame seeds with olive oil, lemon and garlic.
Pickled Green Olives: Marinated green olives in vinegar and olive oil.
Loukanika: Pork sausages soaked in red wine and smoked seasoned with coriander and red pepper.
Koupepia: (Also known as Dolmades) Grape leaves stuffed with minced meat and rice seasoned with mint, onions and spices.
Lountza: smoked pork soaked in red wine.
Halloumi: White soft cheese (usually grilled when served as part of a Meze) made from either goat or sheep milk and sometimes spiced with peppermint.
Souvlaki: Cypriot Kebabs. Served either as succulent lamb cutlets, pork fillets, grilled chicken or as a combination of any or all of these.
Sheftalia: Grilled fresh sausage made of minced pork, chopped onions, bread crumbs, chopped parsley, white pepper and salt.
Keftedes: Deep fried crispy & spicy meatballs cooked in olive oil.
Afelia: Pork cubes marinated in wine and coriander.
Moussaka: Popular dish made of layers of sliced aubergines, courgettes, potatoes and minced meat topped with creamy bechamel sauce, baked in the oven.
Stiphado: Beef or rabbit stew casseroled with wine, vinegar, onions and spices.
Ofto kleftiko: Chunks of lamb cooked in a sealed clay oven and seasoned with pepper and bay leaves.
Fried Zucchini: Mixed with scrambled eggs and fresh parsley.
Fried Eggplants: Eggplants dipped in flour, fried and served hot.
Village Salad: Made of cabbage, lettuce, rugola, coriander, celery, spring onions, cucumbers, capers, olives, green peppers and feta cheese with a dressing made of olive oil lemon juice and salt.