I just got back from Cyprus where I had my mind blown by this unique and electrifying country. I felt like a proper ignoramus when we booked our flights, thinking we were going to the furthermost part of the Greek islands. Not quite. (I caveat my extreme ignorance: I didn’t do history GCSE, and have two small children who suck out the sharp bits of my brain using their special tools on a daily basis). So, I have since learned that Cyprus is a very complicated place indeed. For starters, it’s not part of Greece at all, the island is a republic situated at the Middle East’s gateway, with Syria and Turkey as its neighbours. The island is divided into two with a military ‘wall’ dividing North from South. Southern Cyprus is home to Greek Cypriots, and Turkish Cypriots live in a self-declared republic the North. The history of how this all came about is bloody, traumatic, incredibly complex and ongoing. I won’t even try to do a very bad job explaining it all – for this we have (ahem) Wikipedia!
I spent a week on each side of the island – the first in Southern ‘Greek’ Cyprus and the second in the North ‘Turkish’ Cyprus and felt like a proper daredevil using the military checkpoints to cross back and forth with my children’s passports in my fists. I loved both parts of the island, and they both had their very defined flavours. Southern Cyprus felt very Greek, if that makes sense, with a booming tourist economy and uber-developed beach scene. A little over-developed in certain areas, I thought. Turkish Cyprus felt as though I’d travelled about 20 years back in time – it was dilapidated, yet intoxicating and very Middle Eastern. In most towns you could hear the Muslim call to prayer blasting out over the rooftops, with the sun bouncing off the shining mosque roofs, their turrets pointing proudly skywards. I saw a lot of very bad snow-washed denim jeans for sale, people smoking incessantly everywhere, people still using payphones! You can still dial ‘192’ for Directory Enquiries. It’s much less developed than the South, a bit scruffier, less ‘neat’. We found it almost deserted by tourists (being October) which, after the crowded beaches of Ayia Napa, was like complete bliss. Even though I’ve never been to Turkey itself, I felt as though I’d been to a very close version of it, just displaced.
When it came to the food, we ate like kings on both sides of the line. Everyone was mega hospitable, and our children had their cheeks tickled and hair tousled everywhere we went. On the Turkish side, my young son was paraded about each restaurant by the male waitors like a lucky trophy – so refreshing to see insanely broody men! Super-fresh seafood, mezze, Turkish pizza, Shish grills, ice cream – you name it. Smoke, spice and herbs. Just the best kind of food for hot climes. Cyprus made my belly and soul very happy – and much rounder.
Here are some photos:
Iced ‘Frappe’ coffees at a laid back pavement cafe in the capital, South Nicosia (just off Ledra St). Apparently they owe their special taste to the Greek version of Nescafe instant and condensed milk. Yum.
I don’t normally love lager, but something about ice-cool local lager on holiday makes it a totally different drink. YES PLEASE:
Home-made taramasalata, not fluorescent:
Fried calimari with saffron rice:
We ate the above dishes at Potomos seafood restaurant, Leopetri (near Ayia Napa):
A fine Cypriot version of the Cornetto, named after my favourite 80s film of all time, given a noble legacy in ice cream:
When you cross the border, suddenly all the Greek food vanishes – it’s all about the Turkish charcoal grill, pomegranate juices and shish kebabs!
Juice bars in Kyrenia: we’d hit prime pomegranate season:
Grocery shopping at the roadside, where the fruit and vegetables are piled up in great, glossy shining piles:
Chicken Shish, practically the national dish, which comes with rich, silky yoghurt and warm buttery pitta (I’m drooling):
Turkish pizza – first, a pide, which is shaped rather like a flat boat and topped with Cypriot cheese and sausage. Delicious:
Next, the Turkish pizza called ‘lahmacun’ which is essentially a wafer-thin pizza topped with minced beef or lamb, which you then drizzle with lime juice and roll up with some parsley. Sensational – really fresh and crisp:
Turkish coffee, which kind of tastes like hot soil, but after a gut-busting lunch is pretty welcome. Complete with its own chic tub of ‘table water’. Just don’t drink the grounds at the bottom of the cup, which are dank and tar-like and will stick in your teeth.
Benoz restaurant, Algadi beach – like heaven on earth, and mysteriously deserted every time we lunched there. The freshest fish, the flakiest cheese borek pastries, a friendly family running the joint:
Pomegranate sellers, Nicosia:
Pomegranates grow in trees just like apples – who knew? I didn’t:
Yoghurt lorry:, Famagusta:
Mobile dried fruit van, Famagusta:
Turkish delight, which I learned is made of cornflour, sugar, water and rose petals all mixed up and heated to form a big pulp, then dried in a slab and cut into cubes:
Amazing kebab restaurant, Nicosia – wonder if the roof ‘doner’ doubles up as a phone mast:
Green skinned tangerines:
Now just because I can’t resist – here is a selection of my non-food-related photos. Subject: terrifying shop mannequins. I found some really eerie ones, both North and South…
This looks like one of my ex-boyfriends, especially the hair:
There’s no excuse for this DEMON CHILD one – see its shiny, evil face:
The feet all come alive at night and start tippity-tappity-ing down the road…
Just horrible, so horrible and grim:
‘Save me, I am trapped, all alone, with no hands…’
And now, for good measure, barber shop signs:
Can anyone tell me what is being advertised in the images top left? Scalping? And terrifying wet shaves below?
The big moustachioed barber from the poster below actually came out of his shop and tried to drag my husband in for a cut – we legged it…
Phwoar! Circa early 90’s Home ‘n Away…
No, thank you:
And to finish, my favourite unintelligible menu item from the holiday – what on earth is ‘LAMP PLANET IN BREAD’? Somebody please enlighten me:
Cyprus, I salute you. I kiss you on both cheeks. See you again one day.