Mezzing Around Cyprus

Undeniably, food is a significant part of any vacation and undisputedly, no gustatory trip to Cyprus would be complete without trying a mezze. Cyprus, the crown jewel of the Mediterranean, and often erroneously referred to as Greek’s little sister, specializes in the mezze. Mezze, which literally means small plates, is the Cypriot’s preferred way of “breaking bread” with friends and family.

A mezze offers individuals a sumptuous tasting of traditional Cypriot delicacies that is sure to awaken hibernating taste buds. Most tavernas in and around Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, offer both a fish and meat mezze, while others will make accommodations, upon request, for those who follow a “sparse on- meat” diet.  Regardless of which mezze you choose, make sure that you make space for the luxurious amounts of food that will pushed onto plates by gracious, attentive waiters and waitresses.

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As fresh fish abound in the resplendent cerulean seas surrounding this charming island country, I would recommend that you commence with a fish mezze.  Start with cubes of fleshy local fish enlivened with lemon, parsley, onion and tomatoes.

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Then move to the vibrantly colored shrimp and full-bodied mussels. Try the succulent squid plated between boiled potatoes or the fork-tender octopus infused with lemon, garlic, and olive oil.

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For those of you who simply cannot forgo rich sauces and dips when eating meals, you will be pleased to note that most restaurants serving up mezze, provide yogurt dips which complement the simply prepared dishes.

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Last, end with a local branzino, which retains the smoky fragrance of a grill on a late summer’s evening. Of course, the requisite horiatiki salata (Cyprus’ version of the Greek salad) accompanies this gargantuan feast, in addition to myriads of cold tapas-hummus, olives, and crusty bread. Despite wanting to sample every plate peppered across the dining table, most individuals will lack the fortitude to press on after four or five impressive rounds of lip-smacking bliss.

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For those of you ardent meat lovers out there, the meat mezze will overwhelm your senses and then leave you in “umami heaven”. The meat mezze traditionally features premium cuts of meat: chicken, pork, beef, lamb, goat- sometimes presented as minced meat, kebabs or hunks of meat properly drowned in overly rich sauces. Like any traditional mezze, the meat mezze begins with the familiar Mediterranean stalwarts- olives, fava beans, green salad with feta, tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions.

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As per usual, the appetizers are a promising start to the ambrosial dishes that ensue, which threaten to seduce the most committed meat –avoidant diners out there. Pork sausages soaked in red wine, baked lamb with stewed eggplant, and vine leaves stuffed with minced meat are just a few of the savory Cypriot delicacies served at a meat mezze, which seem to dissolve slowly on the tongue.

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After digging into a fish or meat mezze, you will be quite eager to take a post-prandial stroll around Nicosia’s lively old town. Or of course, you can opt to simply laze around the table engaging in cordial chatter with friends, whilst sipping on a delicate after-dinner cocktail, a strongly brewed coffee, or any one of Cyprus’ famed red or white varietals.

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Whether you are a meat or fish lover, the mezze acquaints you with the Mediterranean diet, which is reputed to be one of the healthiest lifestyles on the planet. Out of the endless array of food customs that I have stumbled upon in my travels, I have found that the Cypriot mezze offers an unfussy, balanced, and friendly way to try the wealth of flavor that emanates from the Mediterranean Sea. And best of all, I believe that the mezze provides the perfect post-shopping sustenance:-).

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