Before moving on from Nicosia and writing about other parts of the island, I would like to talk about traditional Cypriot food, specifically the meze. As a main meal, it usually consists of 20-30 small dishes, served 4-5 at a time, meant to be shared around the table. It is a meal made into a social event, taking up to a few hours as everyone tries each dish; it is customary to ask your waiter in between courses for a break if you start to get full, though we had no knowledge of this. Restaurants may specialize in whether it will be a meat, fish, or vegetarian meze, but the main structure is usually the same. While in Cyprus, my father and I experienced both a meat and a fish meze.
Meze in Nicosia
While in Nicosia, I heard about Zanettos Tavern, a local restaurant open since 1938 that only serves meze (meat). I decided I wanted to experience something more “traditional” so we walked over. When we got there, the only menu was for drinks and the first dishes were immediately brought to our table.
The meze traditionally starts with a salad, this one consisting of tomatoes, green bell peppers, lettuce, and feta cheese, and dips, including tahini and yogurt. We also received green olives, a smaller green salad, toasted bread with olive oil, and beetroot.
The next course came soon after. There was breaded and fried zucchini strips, roasted potatoes, and a mix of meats, including a pork kebab. The highlight of this course for me was the grilled halloumi. A traditional Cypriot food, it is a semi-hard, unripened, and brined cheese made from a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk. I found it quite nice, though only a small portion at a time.
After nibbling for a bit, the next course came, starting with grilled mushrooms and rice and followed by veal liver strips, french fries, and chicken kebab. It was at this point we began to get full, but the food just kept coming and coming.
The final course of the actual meal consisted of snails, Spanish rice with bacon strips, a ravioli topped with cheese, and finally my favorite dish of the entire night: eggs scrambled in tomatoes. When we told our waiter it was my favourite dish (I devoured the entire bowl), he told us that it was a common Cypriot hangover cure.
As they took the dishes away, we reflected on all the food we had just consumed. My dad found much of the meat to be greasy and therefore too heavy due to the way it prepared. We both had our favourite dishes, but there was a lot that went to waste as we only had a bite or two. We also had no idea how much it would cost in total as there had been no menu besides when we ordered drinks. What we didn’t know was that we weren’t entirely done with food yet; with the bill came dessert. This consisted of a Lebanese milk pudding with pistachios, halva, a dense confection sweetened with honey, and slices of apples and oranges.
After we paid (the total coming to $59.70), we were sure we could go. We got our coats and left the table only to be stopped at the door, an embarrassing experience, by the waiter who brought us small glasses dessert wine, which we felt obligated to consume. After this rushed ending, we finally left the restaurant and headed back to our hotel. We had spent over two hours there.
Meze in Limassol
As our trip was getting closer to ending, we decided we wanted to have another go at the meze, this time focusing on seafood. During our one night in Limassol, we found the Trata Fish Tavern and decided to try their fish meze. Once again, the meal began with a salad, this time consisting of cucumber, tomato, lettuce, and feta cheese, a variety of dips, green olives, and beetroot.
The rest of the following dishes focused solely on seafood, with the exception of french fries not pictured here. The first round brought us two kinds of breaded fish and fried calamari. Though good, the fried sardines were a bit of a pain of terms of separating the meat from the many small bones.
This whole meal was smaller than that of Zanettos. The last course consisted of two mussels, a grilled white fish, grilled octopus, and finally two shrimp. This was my first time trying octopus; I found it very tasty, though I avoided the suckers on the tentacle.
When we had finished our meal, we were given a baklava each as dessert. The total cost came to $55.84, similar to Zanettos. Upon reflection, my dad found he preferred this meze; I on the other hand, found there to be not enough dishes, especially as I don’t particularly like seafood, except for fish. That being said, both were worth trying and definitely provided a true Cypriot experience.