Top 20 Most Popular Cypriot Foods
For Cypriots, food has always been at the center of celebrations, holidays, and family meet ups. Over good food, people in Cyprus connect with one another, share the good and the bad moments in life, and care for each other, as well as for their guests.
Cyprus is still a place of seasonality when it comes to food, each season bringing different delicacies to the dinner table, often foraged by members of the family. Usually, men go out to the fields and mountains to gather agrelia (wild asparagus), wild mushrooms, kapari (caper), and even snails, depending on the season.
Cypriot cuisine is mainly Mediterranean, but has had many influences due to its geographical position.
Legumes, vegetables, and roots make up a large part of the diet in Cyprus as they are cultivated locally, but meat is the centerpiece in events and celebrations, and even weekly family lunches. Also, with Cyprus being an island, fish and seafood make their appearance at least once a week on Cypriots’ tables.
Foreign cuisines only entered the culinary space of Cyprus in the past few decades, and even though they are enjoyed by the locals, there are some staple Cypriot foods that remain at the forefront of family and social life in Cyprus.
Popular Meat-based Dishes in Cyprus
Souvla is probably the most popular dish in Cyprus, and the main attraction at celebrations, family gatherings, and Sunday lunches.
It consists of large cuts of pork, lamb or chicken cooked on long rotating skewers over charcoal (using the charcoal grill known as foukou). Since the cuts of meat are quite large, they are cooked for a long time at a low temperature.
Souvlaki literally means “small souvla” and consists of small pieces of pork or chicken. Similar to souvla, it is cooked on skewers on the foukou over charcoal.
It’s served in Cypriot pitta with chopped tomato, cucumber, cabbage, onion, and parsley, and of course lots of lemon juice. Souvlaki is also a very popular take-out food for Cypriots.
Sheftalies are a delicious meat delicacy that usually accompanies souvlakia on the foukou and in the Cypriot pitta. When you order souvlakia in Cyprus, if you ask for a mix, you’ll get souvlakia with sheftalies.
Sheftalies are made with minced pork, finely chopped onion, parsley, and spices (salt, cumin, cinnamon, black pepper), and shaped into long meatballs. They are wrapped in caul fat (panna), the thin membrane surrounding the pig’s or lamb’s stomach.
One of the most traditional dishes in Cyprus, afelia are small pieces of pork, marinated in red wine. They are then fried and braised in red wine and coriander seeds.
They are usually served with bulgur wheat (pilafi) and yoghurt. Another popular side for this dish are patates antinahtes, meaning tossed potatoes (baby potatoes with the skin on, fried and then cooked with the afelia in red wine and coriander seeds).
5. Ofto Kleftikco
Ofto kleftiko, meaning “baked stolen”, is a piece of lamb or goat wrapped in foil or baking paper and baked in a wood-fired oven for many hours, accompanied with potatoes or bulgur wheat (pilafi). Because of the way it is cooked, it becomes tender and sweet, often falling off the bone.
There are different stories explaining this dish’s name. It is said that in Cyprus the animal used for ofto was often stolen, but there is also a story placing the dish’s origin in the Greek Revolution of 1821, where Greek mountain rebels (kleftes) stole an animal and cooked it in a hole in the ground so that the smoke wouldn’t be visible.
Traditional Cypriot Soups
Trahanas is made by mixing fermented goat milk and crushed wheat and letting it dry in the sun. Nowadays, it can be bought in stores, and it is then used to make a tasty, sour, and nutritious soup by cooking it with water. Chopped halloumi is usually added to the soup as a topping.
Augolemoni, its name meaning egg and lemon, is a soup made by adding rice to chicken stock. When the rice is cooked, beaten eggs and lemon juice are added, along with salt and pepper. The soup is served hot, usually with pieces of chicken.
Apart from being a comforting soup for winter, augolemoni is also traditionally prepared after church on Holy Saturday night, before Easter Sunday, as well as on Christmas morning.
Traditional Vegetable-Based Dishes in Cyprus
Moutzentra is a name used for a dish of brown lentils and rice. Nourishing and high in protein, it’s made even tastier by adding diced fried or caramelized onions. It is said that the dish originates in the Middle East, which has had a heavy influence on Cypriot cuisine.
Louvi (black eyed peas) is a popular nutritious legume dish in Cyprus. Depending on the season, locals cook it in two different ways. In its dried form (louvi me ta lahana), it is cooked with chard, while in its fresh form (louvi me to kolokoui), it has a light green color, and it’s cooked with a variety of squash (marrow).
Both versions are topped with a generous amount of olive oil and lemon juice. As with other legume dishes, olives, green chilies or canned fish such as sardines, tuna or anchovies are served on the side.
Other popular Cypriot foods
Koupepia is one of the most loved dishes in Cyprus. Similar to the Greek dolmades, they are made with grape leaves, stuffed with minced pork, rice, onion, and herbs, such as parsley, and mixed with tomato and lemon juice.
Gemista is a traditional dish of stuffed vegetables, usually tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, and eggplant. The stuffing is the same as the one used for koupepia, with its main ingredients being pork mince and rice. They are cooked in the oven and served with yogurt and salad.
Agrelia, a type of wild asparagus, grows in the fields of Cyprus and is foraged by locals during the first months of the year. They are preserved in water and usually fried with eggs and served as a starter meze.
They are known for having a slightly bitter taste, but this can be reduced by boiling them in hot water and straining them.
13. Pilafi Pourgouri
Pilafi pourgouri is bulgur wheat, a highly nutritional cereal cooked with tomato juice and diced onions. A staple of the Cypriot cuisine, it is usually served as a side to meat dishes, but not exclusively. Often fides (vermicelli noodles) is added to the bulgur wheat.
Halloumi is one of the most known local products, a Cypriot semi-hard cheese made from sheep’s, goat’s or sometimes cow’s milk. It can be fried or grilled, as it doesn’t melt, served as a side dish or meze starter. It’s also often eaten raw, and it goes great with watermelon!
15. Makaronia tou Fournou
Makaronia tou fournou, also known as pastitsio, is a favorite dish in Cyprus. It’s an oven-baked pasta dish with layers of minced pork and tomato sauce and a béchamel cream on top. Sprinkling cinnamon over the cream before it goes in the oven adds the final touch to this flavorful dish!
Kolokasi (taro) is a protein-packed root vegetable and Cyprus is one of the only places in Europe where it is grown in substantial quantities.
It’s cooked in tomato sauce with vegetables such as celery, making for a delicious stew. It is also often cooked with pork. Another way of cooking kolokasi is frying it with coriander seeds (poulles).
17. Kolokouthkia me ta Auka
A favorite traditional side dish, and one of the easiest meals to cook at home, this consists of sliced zucchini fried with beaten eggs. The variety of zucchini grown in Cyprus makes this dish especially sweet and delicious, and a popular meze offered in taverns.
Loukoumades are a much loved dessert that is always available ay fairs and celebrations, but you can really find it anywhere all year round in Cyprus. They are delicious small balls of dough that are deep fried until puffed up and crunchy, and then drenched in syrup.
Pourekia are a traditional pastry delicacy made of thin puff pastry and filled in with various ingredients. The most popular and traditional sweet filling is anari (a Cypriot soft cheese), mixed with cinnamon and sugar.
The finishing touch is sprinkling them with powdered sugar. Pourekia are also really popular in their savory version where they are filled with halloumi, mushrooms or minced meat.
Mahallepi is ,a very traditional and much loved summer dessert. It’s made by heating water with corn flour, without added sugar. It’s always served chilled, either with rose water and sugar, or with triantafyllo (rose cordial syrup). It definitely makes for a mouth-watering aromatic and refreshing dessert for the summer!