Turkish Cypriot Cuisine
Cuisine is often at the heart of a countries culture, the unique and diverse flavours dating back through centuries of traditional cooking. In North Cyprus in particular, the local Turkish Cypriot cuisine is an extension of the local’s hospitality. Eateries are a main attraction within the towns such as Kyrenia, and Famagusta and you’ll find many establishments serving international and local Turkish North Cyprus cuisine, all vying for your attention. These provide a warm and welcoming environment for travellers and locals to bond.
Cypriot cuisine is classic Mediterranean food, defined by natural ingredients and rich flavours. One of the most popular dishes is the Meze, which is a common starter to wet the appetites of diners, though also can accompany mains.
Meze dishes include green olives soaked in olive oil, grilled halloumi cheese and seasoned yoghurts. These provide a sociable aspect to meals also, with everyone around the table picking and comparing foods. Meat eaters will be kept in their element in North Cyprus with so many hearty meat based dishes, all of them enthusiastically garnished and some cooked in charcoal ovens to give an added smoky essence to the taste. With infusions of Turkish cuisine in North Cyprus the kebab is a popular choice, often served with vegetables.
Seafood is a true delicacy here, and with such a range of underwater life in the clear blue seas it’s not surprising that this is a popular area for fishermen! If you visit harbour towns such as Bogaz you’ll find that there are many restaurants serving fresh fish, allowing you to stick with what you know or to be adventurous with things like octopus sometimes on the menu! The fish is usually grilled and cooked in vegetable oils and is the perfect accompaniment to a warm evening set to the backdrop of the sea.
On your North Cyprus holidays, trying the cuisine is all part of getting a feel for the lifestyle and the people there. It’s also a delicious treat that will undoubtedly make your holiday experience even more exotic, with so many distinctive dishes to explore.
Kebabs are mostly recognised as a fast food snack, though they originated in the Middle East and are a popular and much enjoyed meal all over North Cyprus to this day. There are a few different types of kebab you could try, with the doner a favourite. This is a slab of beef, lamb or chicken roasting on a vertical spit. Slices from this are then most often put into pita bread or a wrap of some sort to be eaten. Another well known kebab is the shish kebab, which is a particular meat (usually lamb) and often vegetables too, all skewered and grilled over charcoal to give a rich taste. If you’re a meat eater then these are un-deniably alluring.
In the UK doner kebabs may have gotten a bad reputation for being the fast food of post pub and club goers, but in North Cyprus they’re a real delicacy. It is thought to have originated in Turkey, and is a large slab of meat placed vertically on a spit that rotates to be heated by the iron plate behind it. Once the meat is nice and lean thin sections are sliced off and can then be put in pita and garnished with various sauces and herbs to give an explosive flavour. Although still a popular fast food even in North Cyprus, the skill and originality that goes into the doner kebab here in the form of toppings and extras is what really makes this a delicious choice. The fact it is also an authentic food from the regions culture gives it that special umph in taste also.
Potates Koftesi are otherwise known as potato patties. They are fried snack sized treats made with potato, cheese and often added herbs and spices such as paprika to liven up the flavour. These are great as an appetiser, something to share with friends or to have as a side to a main meal.
The seftali Kebab translates rather strangely to be ‘peach kebab’, despite containing no fruit. This is due to its name originating from a chef named Ali, who prepared this dish to a spectacular standard. Over the course of time ‘Chief Ali’s Kebab’ became ‘Shef Ali’, which finally became ‘Seftali’. To this day it is a popular and traditional Turkish Cypriot food that is a favourite for evening meals looking amid Mediterranean views, or perhaps to accompany some lunch time refreshments over a bed of salad. These are made out of minced lamb meat that is mixed with onions and spices to give an extra wave of taste. These are rolled into sausage style cylinders before being wrapped in a lamb’s abdominal membrane. Lastly, they are grilled over charcoal and left to crisp up so that the flavours infuse with one another to create a rich and meaty meal experience.
Bulgur Koftesi is a kofte kebab like meatball which uses bulgur wheat to add a flavour to the meat as well as a great texture. This is also a great recipe to make at home on a low budget, as well as if you’re looking for a healthier kebab option due to the slightly lower meat content and ability of the wheat to fill you up more than normal. Herbs and spices are added to taste, and the meat is either grilled or fried, and generally served with rice or salad (or both) to create a beautiful fresh and filling meal. Perfect for barbeques or lunches out in the sun.
Pastries of all varieties are a popular trademark of the Cypriot cuisine. For those with a sweet tooth there’s Baklava and Katmer, both boasting adequate amounts of sugar or syrup amongst other ingredients. The Kadayif is a pastry doused with syrup and crushed nuts and the samsi is filo pastry containing walnuts. For the more savoury inclined there’s the lahmacun, which is a crepe like dish served with a stream of meat and vegetable flavours. There’s also the sigara borek, a popular meze contender that includes the wonderfully Mediterranean feta cheese wrapped in filo pastry that is then deep fried. If you’re feeling indecisive then the mouth watering Halloumi Borek has an exotic array of tastes, with an infusion of egg, mint and halloumi cheese as a filling. It is cut into little pastry squares and then even served with honey. Pastries are especially great as a lunch time snack or as part of an appetizer in the evening.
Borek is a traditionally Turkish savoury pastry dish that is somewhat like a British pasty but can be made almost like a lasagne, depending on how the chef depends on the preparation. Most Borek are small, portion sized parcels of flaky filo pastry that contain either a vegetarian mix of spinach and feta cheese, or meat with peppers. A variance is a lasagne like version where much larger layers of pastry are placed between layers of meat or spinach mix, creating a crispier meal that can be shared between everyone.
Lahmacun is at first similar to a pizza in that it is a rounded base of dough with various toppings. There are different ways in which you can chose to flavour lahmacun, though the most common is a meat topping of beef and lamb. Vegetables including tomato and onions are then added with a bit of lemon juice to give the dish a zesty flourish. Peppers, lettuce and roasted eggplant are popular fillings too, as the lahmacun is lastly wrapped over and eaten in a crepe like fashion.
Kolokas is a popular type of vegetable used in North Cypriot meals. This can be eaten like a potato or used in various dishes such as moussaka and casseroles. Its leaves can also be boiled and infused into a range of other foods to give an extra dimensional flavour.
Molohiya is a plant similar to spinach, and is thought to have originated as a popular Egyptian dish that word has spread of throughout the Middle East. It is grown in Cyprus and on the banks of the river Nile in Egypt. It can be known as a few different things, Jew’s Mallow being a common name. North Cyprus serves this slightly strange but tasty nonetheless vegetable and it’s a good idea to take advantage of this fact and give it a try as it’s not easy to come by in the UK! It comes from the leaves of a Jute plant and is preferred as part of a soup/broth with the inclusion of meat (usually lamb or chicken) and various extra vegetables. This is truly unique cuisine, and perfect as part of a holiday experience.
Firin Makarnasi is a baked macaroni dish using the Cypriot favourite of halloumi cheese. It is more like lasagne in appearance than the traditional macaroni cheese we are used to, each portion a delicious slab of creamy pasta secured within an outer surface of cooked crunchy cheese. It also can include minced lamb. An ideal evening meal accompanied by a glass of something refreshing!
The Makarina Bulli, also known as the Magarina Bulli is a pasta dish that can use a variety of pasta types, though spaghetti, linguini and sometimes even fusil are popular. These are cooked and served in a chicken stock base and then have a grated halloumi cheese topping, which gives the meal a salty tang. Lastly, a chicken breast is often added to the top to create a meal that is delicious and filling. A good choice for evening meals.
With its beautiful Mediterranean waters North Cyprus has prime pickings for a great variety of seafood. You’ll have the opportunity to try out some delicious fresh fish food places that are rested right beside the harbour, with a selection to accommodate for those that want to try something adventurous or those that just want to stick with what they know and love.
Some specialties are sea bass, cod, tuna and sea bream. These are at their best when baked in casseroles with vegetables and herbs or just served fresh on a bed of salad with a drizzle of sauce. Some types of fish are also served on skewers with vegetables, creating a colourful and refreshing taste palette. The barbun, otherwise known as a goat fish provides a lean meat that is especially popular around the North Cyprus region. If you want to try something a little different though then there’s always octopus, which when grilled and served with a cold drink is an exciting and unique holiday eating experience.
Fishing is a popular activity in North Cyprus, with an exotic array of sea life beneath those clear blue waters. With this in mind you’ll find some great seafood restaurants, especially in harbour villages such as Bogaz that have a selection of fresh fish including cod, tuna, sea bass, sea bream, octopus and the exotic sounding peacock wrasse. The variety is what makes the seafood on offer in North Cyprus so hard to resist. It’s the perfect choice if you fancy trying something new, or just a fitting meal to enjoy in the Mediterranean atmosphere.