Ya sou! Merhaba! This weekend we globetrotted to Cyprus, an island nation in the eastern Mediterranean. Over the centuries, Cyprus has been a part of many empires, including the Egyptian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Ottoman and British Empires. The two major ethnic groups in modern-day, independent Cyprus are the Greek Cypriots, who make up about three-quarters of the country’s population, and the Turkish Cypriots, who are about 18 percent of the population.
Since Derek and I like both Greek and Turkish cuisine, we knew we were in for a treat with Cyprus. But, of course, we were wanted to know more about Cypriot culture than just the food. We vaguely knew that the country was divided, with northern Cyprus being predominantly Turkish, and southern Cyprus predominantly Greek, but didn’t know the backstory.
I do think, though, that it’s a good idea to start a globetrot with a contented belly, so we began our Cypriot weekend with breakfast. On Saturday morning I prepared us plates of tomato wedges, cucumber slices, olives, fried egg, and halloumi cheese pan-fried in a little olive oil. Halloumi is the national cheese of Cyprus, and one notable thing about it is that it can be fried or grilled without melting. (The cover photo is from our halloumi packaging.) I’ve enjoyed halloumi before at restaurants (including as the “fish” in a vegetarian fish and chips dish at a restaurant in Brighton, England), so I was excited to have it as part of our breakfast. The salty halloumi and olives were well balanced by the tomato, cucumber, and the bread I had also purchased for the occasion.
After some morning errands, we went to a Greek restaurant in our neighborhood, Acropolis, for lunch, where we had mezedes (or meze in Turkish), a selection of small dishes. We shared melitzanakeftedes (eggplant fritters), horiatiki salata (Greek village salad, with cucumber, tomato, red onion, feta, and olives), and a combination platter with olives, feta, artichoke hearts, pepperoncini, spanakopita (spinach and feta pie) and dolmades (rice-stuffed grape leaves). It was a nice spread, and we took home what we couldn’t finish.
When we returned home, we turned to Geography Now! to get an overview of Cyprus. Barby helped shed some light on the reasons for the Greek-Turkish divide.
While Derek took an afternoon nap (teaching and planning for four college classes is very tiring!), I busied myself in the kitchen. First, I made a Turkish Cypriot coconut cake, which, like the tres leches cake we made during our last globetrot to Cuba, called for soaking the cake in a sweet syrup, though this coconut cake recipe was much simpler. (I did reduce the amount of syrup I made by a quarter, since several people who had tried the recipe commented that they didn’t need the entire amount of syrup the full recipe made.) As the cake cooled, I started chopping vegetables for the two dishes we’d have for dinner.
My birthday was a few weeks ago, during our previous globetrot, and as one of my presents, Derek gave me a copy of Indian-born actress and food and travel writer Madhur Jaffrey’s cookbook, World Vegetarian. The book has several Cypriot recipes, so we were able to put the book to use this weekend. I chose a Cypriot lima bean stew, and a dish of bulgur and pumpkin (I used butternut squash instead).
After Derek woke up from his nap, and while the dishes were simmering on the stove, we watched a National Geographic documentary on Cyprus, which gave more insight into the country’s dispute between its Greek and Turkish citizens. To put things succinctly, in 1974, a group of Greek Cypriots who supported unifying with Greece carried out a coup against the then-Cypriot president. In response, Turkey invaded northern Cyprus. Eventually, there was a cease fire, but the end result was that Turkish Cypriots came to inhabit the northern part of the country, and Greek Cypriots the southern part, with a large United Nations buffer zone separating the two. Although there is relatively little conflict between the two groups today, the split still has a major impact on the life of Cypriots, especially the Greek and Turkish Cypriots displaced from their ancestral homes. The piece did end on a hopeful note, however, by highlighting individuals looking for ways to reconcile the North and South.
In looking up more information about the Greek-Turkish Cypriot divide, Derek also discovered that Cyprus Independence Day, which commemorates Cyprus’ independence from British rule, was that very day, October 1. The president of the Republic of Cyprus (which is Greek-dominated) also gave an address for the occasion, addressing both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, as described in this news article. Without knowing it, we had picked the perfect weekend for our Cypriot globetrot.
At long last, our dinner was ready. You can see our lima bean stew at the top of the following photo, and the bulgur below. They both came out quite nicely, and we’re likely to make them again. The lima bean stew goes very well with some crusty bread, and the squash in the bulgur practically melted in our mouths.
Once all the dishes were washed, Derek cut us squares of the coconut cake, which we ate while watching an Expoza Travel video about vacationing in Cyprus. After our previous video, it seemed strange that this video didn’t mention the divide in the country, though like most tourism pieces, it probably wants to avoid mentioning anything negative. As for the coconut cake, it was very sweet and moist, but the coconut only seemed to lend texture to the cake, and not much flavor.
The next morning, we enjoyed more cucumber, tomato, olives, fried egg, halloumi and bread. As I happily munched on cucumbers, I wondered if it would be easier for many Americans to eat the recommended five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables a day if we incorporated vegetables into our breakfasts.
We listened to traditional Cypriot music in the morning, and as it got closer to lunchtime, Derek made moujendra, a rice and lentil dish with fried onion, which is also from our new World Vegetarian cookbook. We’ve had a similar Middle Eastern dish, mujaddara, in the past, but what made our moujendra Cypriot is the lemon juice mixed in with the lentils and rice. It also was more creamy, like a risotto, than the other rice-lentil dishes we’ve had in the past, which were more like pilafs. Nevertheless, it was delicious, and we enjoyed it with the leftover mezedes from our lunch at Acropolis the day before.
In the afternoon, we made some Greek lemon verbena tea, cut two more squares of coconut cake (which seemed tastier to me this second day), and settled down to watch the Cypriot film The Last Homecoming. The film takes place in the summer of 1974, shortly before Turkey invaded Cyprus, and follows a Greek Cypriot family living in northern Cyprus. Here’s a trailer with English subtitles:
For dinner, Derek made our final Cypriot meal, louvi, black-eyed peas with chard, also from the World Vegetarian cookbook, and some toasted sourdough. (We didn’t eat the red chili that you can see in the picture, as it already lent its heat to the stew.) And because dinner was so healthy, we decided it was okay to each have a second serving of cake for the day.
Efharisto, Kypros! Teshek-kur edirim, Kibris! Thank you, Cyprus! We certainly enjoyed our globetrot, and you can count us as supporters of a peaceful reunification between your north and south.