EATING out in Cyprus can be a surprise if you’re staying in one of the larger resorts, where international fare – pizza, pasta, Chinese, Indian – tends to dominate. It’s not always easy to sample some real Cypriot cuisine.
If clients want to find what makes local palates tick, then suggest a trip to one of the Cyprus’s villages, where they can sample tasty, traditional food with an emphasis on local produce – maybe a meze that starts with pitta bread and dips and ends 30 dishes later.
A new tourist board initiative, Vakhis – named after a famous Cypriot chef who lived in Kition in 300AD – aims to lure visitors out of the major resorts and into the villages for a taste of the real Cyprus.
The Cyprus Tourism Organisation is awarding a Vakhis certificate to rural tavernas that serve authentic Cypriot food prepared in traditional ways. It must be freshly cooked, using locally-grown fruit, meat and vegetables.
Diners can expect a lot of olives, lettuce and tomatoes as starters; lemons – so many are grown on the island that they go with just about everything – halloumi cheese, which is hand-made at about 50 smallholdings, and plenty of lamb and pork dishes.
CTO tourist officer Kyriacos Kyriacou said: “We have good food that tourists don’t know about. We hope this initiative will make people aware of Cypriot cuisine and it will become a new reason for visitors to come.”
Ten tavernas – mostly between Larnaca and Limassol – have so far been awarded a Vakhis certificate, and another six are expected to gain the kitemark in November. “We want to expand it to 25-30 members,” Kyriakou said.
The CTO proposes likely members and approaches the tavernas to see if they are interested in taking part, said Kyriakou. They are inspected to ensure they comply with the project’s regulations and quality standards.
Certificates are awarded for a year, after which each taverna is rechecked to ensure standards have not slipped and prices have not rocketed.
The Mesostrato Tavern in Kakopetria was one of the first to get the Vakhis certificate. Chef and owner Stelios Alkiviades said: “We are proud to be one of the first restaurants in Cyprus to achieve the Vakhis certificate and want to share our heritage with visitors so they can experience our real culture.
“We were inspected on several occasions on cleanliness, food hygiene, the wine list, service and the building to ensure all were of the highest standard and maintained the authentic traditional character.”
For more information on Vakhis download Cyprus Tourism Organisation’s Vakhis information pack (external link).
From the vine
Vakhis-certificated tavernas must also serve local wine. And while the quality varies, you can at least be sure there’s plenty to go around.
For a small island, Cyprus produces a lot of wine – 2.5 million litres a year – and has been doing so for 4,000 years, which makes it the oldest wine-producing country in Europe, according to Pambos Papadopoulos, the manager of the Cyprus Wine Museum just outside Limassol.
There are numerous small wine producers on the island, mostly between Paphos and Limassol, and the majority offer tastings for visitors. The most famous variety is the sweet Commandaria.
The wine, said to be the oldest named wine in the world and a favourite of Richard the Lionheart, is made from white Xynisteri and red Mavro grapes, two varieties unique to Cyprus.
They are picked and laid in the sun for 12 days until they are dehydrated, which increases the concentration of the sugars, which in turn dictates the alcohol content.
The result is a heady 15% proof, the highest possible level before wine becomes sherry (15.1%) and any leftovers are made into the lethal Zivonia, the Cypriot version of grappa.
You can drink it, of course, but it’s also said to be good to rub on the chest if you have a cold.
Afelia: pork cooked in red wine with coriander seeds
Baklava: filo pastry filled with nuts and syrup
Bourekia: small puff pastries with meat, cheese or cream-cheese filling
Daktyla: almond finger pastries
Halloumi: goats’ or ewes’ milk cheese, often served grilled
Houmous: dip made from crushed chickpeas and olive oil
Keftedes: meat balls
Kleftiko: slow-cooked lamb wrapped in foil with herbs
Dolmades: stuffed vine leaves
Sheftalia: minced pork and herb rissole
Souvlaki: small chunks of lamb cooked on a spit
Stifado: beef and onion stew
Linos Inn and Mesostrato Tavern
Down a narrow, cobbled street in Kakopetria, about 32 miles from Limassol, Linos Inn has been created from a complex of old houses that has been restored in traditional style.
Named after a linos, an area found in old houses that was used to crush grapes, the inn is small – 22 rooms – each in traditional style with four-poster or iron-framed beds, antique tables and chests.
There are wooden beams on the ceiling and shutters on the windows. The reception area, which doubles as a bar and restaurant, is inside a picturesque courtyard, from where the steps lead up to the rooms.
The Mesostrato Tavern, which is owned by the Inn and holds the Vakhis certificate, is about two minutes up the street. This is also traditional in look and feel. Service was unfussy and laid back.
More important is the food – we had a 22-dish meze, which was a good way to try everything – which was very tasty and outstanding value at £8.30.
The tavern also serves a more moderate mini meze, with 15 dishes, for about £5.50, the same price as a plate of Stifado. The house wine wasn’t brilliant, but at about £4.45 a bottle I guess you shouldn’t expect too much.
My advice would be to push the boat out… after all, you never know when you’re going to be able to afford the most expensive bottle on the list again.
Sample product: Sunvil Holidays offers seven nights at the Linos Inn from £592 per person, bed and breakfast, including flights and car hire.