If freshness is one key to cooking in Cyprus, "meze" is the other. An abbreviation of mezedes, or "little delicacies," meze consist of as many as 30 small plates of food, from savory dips and vegetables to a wide range of fish and meat dishes. Much more than hors d'oeuvres, the meze often comprise the heart of a meal itself. In some restaurants and tavernas you can choose to order seafood meze or meat meze.
Among the items you can expect to be served are: Loukanika, coriander-seasoned sausages, soaked in red wine and smoked; Koupepia, grape leaves stuffed with minced meat and rice; Lountza, smoked pork, often served in sandwiches with halloumi, a delicious soft cheese, (usually grilled) made from thyme-fed sheep and sometimes spiced with peppermint; sheftalia, grilled pork sausage, afelia, pork marinated in wine and coriander; stiphado, beef or rabbit stew casseroled with wine vinegar, onions and spices; and ofto kleftiko, chunks of lamb cooked in a sealed clay oven and seasoned with bay leaves.
Seafood dishes include calamari, octopus in red wine, barbouni (red mullet), and sea bass. Some common vegetable preparations are potatoes in olive oil and parsley, pickled cauliflower and beets, zucchini, kolokasi (a sweet potato-like root vegetable) and asparagus.
There are also the Greek classics taramosalata, fish roe blended into a creamy pink dip of pureed potatoes with parsley, lemon juice and finely chopped onion; talatouri, cool mint and cucumber flavored yogurt with a dusting of garlic, a variation on the Greek tzatziki;
Greek salad (horiatiki salata) with tomatoes, lettuce, bell peppers, feta cheese, green olives and local herbs; moussaka, the traditional Greek dish of minced meat and eggplant topped with creamy bechamel sauce; and souvlakia, kebabs of pork, lamb and chicken.
Cypriot desserts often consist of fresh fruit, served alone or with a selection of sweet pastries or fruit preserved in syrup. These include loukoumades, Cyprus donuts with honey syrup, daktyla, ladyfingers with almonds, walnuts and cinnamon, and shiamali, orange semolina cakes cut into squares. In cafes, popular snacks include kolokoti, a pastry triangle stuffed with red pumpkin, cracked wheat and raisins, and pastellaki, a sesame, peanut and honey syrup bar. There is also galatopoureko, a cream-stuffed phyllo pastry. A traditional sweet treat is loukoumia, cubes of gelatin flavored with rose water and dusted with powdered sugar.
Lunch is still the main meal of the day, followed by a rest in the heat of the day. Eating with fingers is acceptable with some parts of the meal, eg bread and dips. It is considered impolite to leave the table before others have finished.
Fresh salads and plain yogurt accompany most meals. Pourgouri Pilafi, prepared from hulled wheat, the grain is steamed until partly cooked then dried before being ground. Pourgouri is available in fine and coarse grade. Moussaka may have its roots in Greece but no-one makes individual moussakas in terracotta pots quite like the Cypriots and Afelia is usually served with pourgouri pilafi and yogurt.