Island of Love
PUBLISHED: 15:25 01 February 2013 | UPDATED: 22:40 20 February 2013
A culinary escape to Cyprus that is more 'fusion' than 'fast food'
Island of Love
A culinary escape to Cyprus that is more fusion than fast food
Kate Fleming visited the island courtesy of the Cyprus Tourism Organisation.
Sunny Cyprus has a very attractive energy and outlook, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the revival of its cuisine and the discovery of some great hot places to eat.
Aphrodite and Herodotus
From the moment Cronus became so enraged he cut off his fathers genitals and cast them into the sea off the west coast of the island, a myth was born, or more precisely a goddess. Aphrodite emerged from the foam, a symbol of love and beauty, and most of the two million tourists who visit Cyprus annually will make pilgrimage to this gorgeous spot near Paphos where the islands patron was created.
Fast-forward four millennia and meet another hero of the island, Herodotus, better known as Roddy. A charismatic chef, Roddy Damalis runs the Ta Piatakia restaurant (and a popular weekly cookery workshop) in Limassol, and he has an inventive skill for using local produce that is both inspired by classic dishes of the past and open to contemporary trends.
Roddy is well-known from his TV cookery shows, and our walk through Limassol market is a mix of selecting ingredients, catching up with friends, and offering me tastes of traditional delicacies such as palouzes (long strings of solidified grape must, a chewy sweet with an almond centre) and arkatena (a ring-shaped bread made with chickpea flour).
His enthusiasm for the islands produce is infectious, and back in his cookery workshop he prepares several dishes, from soft cheese-filled figs to baklava, all of which are carefully complemented by regional wines. It is clear that Roddy is not only a creative chef with a desire to see Cypriot cuisine evolve, but he also represents the natural and friendly hospitality that you encounter everywhere here, so dont hesitate to book in for a meal at his restaurant because it will be a special experience.
Halloumi, Carob and Commandaria
Halloumi! When we take photos of our friends, we encourage them to say cheese to get them to smile. Well, in Cyprus they dont say cheese, they say halloumi, and it is the distinguished and long-eared Damascus goat that is responsible for this tasty smile.
I watched halloumi being made by Stella in her small dairy farm at Anogyra, in the hillside above the southern coast. This is a labour-intensive process that starts at dawn with milking and lasts several hours more as the milk is boiled, then moulded, cooled and vacuum-packed. She served me some on a saucer with a drizzle of carob syrup while I sat on her sunny terrace where the dog barked and the baby cried and the citrus fruit hung heavy in the orchard.
The carob tree was a complete unknown to me before this visit, but it produces a versatile and valuable ingredient. Its long, dark pods are high in sugar content, and it is used as a chocolate substitute and for making syrupy jam and marmalade. But because of its strong binding characteristics, it is also one of the components used in the manufacture of aircraft windows! Not surprisingly, the Cypriots call it black gold.
Essentially Cyprus is a rural economy, and one of its major products is wine. There is a truly wonderful range available from the islands 40 boutique wineries where traditional grape varieties have been reinstated and blended with the new. There are classy Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons, fruity Grenache ross, as well as the indigenous dry white Xinisteri and deep-red and full-bodied Maratheftiko. And then there is the glorious caramel-coloured Commandaria, a sweet dessert wine which originated at the time of the Crusades and is, therefore, the oldest wine in the world still in production. Pick up any of the six wine tour leaflets and follow the routes to the vineyards to taste them for yourselves.
Passion and Philosophy
Off the beaten track in a village just outside Paphos is a venerable chef called George Demetriades who runs the Seven St Georges Tavern. His ethos is to buy nothing in, but to grow whatever he serves on the table, and to support this he shows me around his land where I see rows of artichokes and lettuces, olive and citrus trees as well as cages of quails and rabbits.
He is a mine of information on the rich culinary history of the island, of the mix of civilisations that have invaded, conquered or occupied the island, leaving their gastronomic as well as cultural influences. He is also an academic who has made a study of the native flora and fauna, and who sees eating well as a civilised and cultural indulgence where time is passed enjoying great food, flowing wine, conversation and laughter. There are peppers and spices drying from hooks on the beamed ceiling, foodstuffs preserved in honey on the shelves, and a date palm and kleftico ovens on the terrace. No suggestion of fast food here, just passion!
Coast and mountains
At the award-winning Four Seasons Hotel on Limassols sandy waterfront there is no limit to the level of luxury you can experience. With 600 rooms ranging from the jacuzzi-fitted Standard, which I enjoyed, to the jaw-droppingly lavish Royal, which are frequented by sheikhs and sultans, and with restaurants offering top-class Chinese, Italian and Greek cuisine, the attentive staff and wonderful facilities are testament to its five-star status. I relaxed on my balcony overlooking the parasol-dotted beach, enraptured by the sound of the cicadas and the fragrance of night-time jasmine. From the deep sofas on the terraces to the Murano glass statuettes in the fountain, there is exquisite attention to detail here. In fact, this is such a gorgeous hotel it makes you feel gorgeous too!
Time to slide off the poolside lounger and head for the cool heights of the Troodos mountains. Hire a car (the roads are great) to explore the islands interior landscapes because here you will discover ancient and beautiful villages surrounded by olive groves, citrus plantations and vineyards.
But in a tough and competitive world, these villages can barely sustain themselves and many people have abandoned them to seek work elsewhere. An exciting innovation is that of Casale Panayiotis, an agro-tourism holiday centre in which a number of the old village homes have been modernised to provide a very high standard of guest accommodation, and the resident villagers are employed as staff.
In picturesque Kalopanayiotis, I stayed in a room with thick stone walls, classy hand-crafted lampshades and ceramics, a luxurious wet-room shower, shuttered windows revealing huge mountain views and a gecko on the bamboo-slatted ceiling. I loved it! And the spa facilities were fabulous: aroma-filled, candle-lit wine caves cut into the mountainside now form personal treatment rooms.
From the glorious beaches which bask in the heat of the long summers, to the snowy pine forests below Mount Olympus in winter, there is much to appeal to visitors whether their interests are scuba diving or water-skiing, bird-watching, botany and geology, cycling or trekking to say nothing of the outstanding archaeological remains and UNESCO-listed Byzantine churches.
Or what about getting married here? Known as the island of love, 10,000 weddings are held every year for overseas couples, the majority of whom are British. With the fantastic scenery and guaranteed sunshine, could this be your dream start to married life?
But whatever reason you choose to visit, make sure you have an appetite, because the Cypriots really do know how to cook and eat very well!
Getting here:Cyprus Airways flies from Heathrow to Larnaca (5 hours), and costs 220 return off-season. cyprusair.com
Staying here:Four Seasons Hotel in Limassol costs from 154 per room. fourseasons.com.cy
Casale Panayiotis, in the Troodos mountains, costs from 98 per room. casalepanayiotis.com
Eating here:Ta Piatakia restaurant and workshop in Limassol, tapiatakia.com. Roddys cookery book, My Little Plates, is available on amazon.com
Seven St Georges Tavern, Yeroskepos, near Paphos. 7stgeorgestavern.com
Taste of Cyprus
Meze:tasters of local cuisine served in a succession of small dishes, which can be up to 20, so take your time! It includes a classic tomato salad, green and black olives, tahini, tsatziki, pickled cauliflower (moungra), minced pork and potato meatballs (keftedes), wild mushrooms, black-eyed beans, the root vegetable taro stewed with celery (kolokasi), grilled halloumi, wine-smoked pork fillet (lountza), pork rissoles (sheftalia), lamb cooked in wood-fired, mud-sealed ovens (kleftico)
Cherries and other soft fruit(even walnuts) preserved in a sweet syrup (glyka) and sold in jars in the mountain villages
Cypruscoffee:strong, black and thick, it is brewed in small, long-handled pots. Ask for sweet (glykis), medium (metrios) or unsweetened (sketos)
Find out more:visitcyprus.com