Saturday, May 29, 2010

Cypriot Food (and nightlife)

Hustle...  Bustle...  Relax... and socialize.

Everyone seems to be in a hurry to get to their destination only to take it easy and hang out with their family and/or friends.  Eating isn't so much about the food but making sure you are spending time with people.  There are lots of small cafes and diners all over the place, on every street, on every block, each of them playing host to small groups of people talking about, what I assume to be, their day full of events.

Dinner here takes a very long time, I've noticed.  Unlike home where we command service and expect our waiter to be there at any given moment, it's a much slower pace here.  Especially at the end of the meal.  Holy cow, don't expect to get your check any time soon, 'cause it isn't going to happen.  The people just assume you are going to be sticking around for a while to socialize after you have completed eating.

The way you order food here is slightly different in a way here as well.  It's not so much different in the sense of how it's done, but more about the types of foods you get.  For example, both American and Cypriot menus have a similar breakdown of the menu items.  You have your appetizers, entrees, sandwiches, desserts, drinks, sometimes some other categories in there, but typically it's the same.  What makes it different is the foods that are on there.

The appetizer menu in America is chock full of stuff deep fried, slapped with bacon, or covered in cheese; nachos, potato skins, fried pickles (thank you Toasted Frog).  Cyprus on the other hand, has a little more healthier fare; χωριάτικη σαλάτα / horiatiki (Greek salad), χαλούμι / halloumi (cheese, sometimes baked or pan seared), and Tashi (Cypriot version of Tahini), and lastly τζατζίκι / Tzatziki (strained yogurt mixed with varied vegetables, usually cucumbers) all get ordered with a meal.

My favorite Cypriot dish so far has been σεφταλιά / Sheftalia, minced meat, pork usually, that is seasoned then stuffed into caul fat (intestinal lining of the animal) then grilled like a sausage.  Me being adventurous and true to my eagerness to learn about other cultures and their food ways, it was important that I try it.  I loved it, it had an amazing texture almost similar to American meatloaf.  When you broke open the "casing" on the sausage, it bursted oped with lots of delectable minced meat on the inside, and was cooked to perfection on the outside.  It tasted especially nice when stuffed into a pita with a little bit of tzatziki sauce.

Almost all meals I have encountered so far are served with chips (read: french fries).  Which is bittersweet, yes it's nice to have something American, but, the fries here seem extremely fatty compared to ours.  I assume this is because they do not have the same standards regarding the use of trans fatty oils for cooking like we do in America.

During one of our excursions to see archaeological sites, we stopped at a Ψαροταβρνεσ / Fish Tavern for lunch.  The restaurant was on a cliff overlooking a magnificent view of the Mediterranean Sea.  As a group, we decided to order several plates and split them between us.  We order Sea-foam fish that was grilled, and octopus (see picture) that was also grilled.  I have had octopus before in dishes like paella, but never had I been served an entire tentacle with it's suckers still attached.  It tasted great, I will definitely try this again.  The flavor was a bit salty and had a rubbery textured.  I managed to scarf down two tentacles by myself and about half of the sea-foam.  This isn't because I didn't like it, I was very much full from the previous foods (see above).

There is no doubt that I will miss the food in Cyprus.

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