Cyprus is located south of Turkey in the Mediterranean sea. This small island holds a long history. Since its settlement, Cyprus has served as the spot where empires meet; but this position is not without its challenges. Indeed, much of Cyprus’s political history involves conflict. This tension, however, does not tend to carry into the social culture anymore as much as in the past.
TAKEAWAY: Nicosia is the only capital in the world that is divided nowadays. As with the island, since 1974 the northen part is occupied by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a territory claimed and recognized only by Turkey. On the contrary, the south belongs to the Republic of Cyprus. However, walking down the streets of Nicosia one sees street art everywhere protesting the island’s division. The border, in fact, is not only easy to cross (if you aren’t a resident) but is also the site of protests for unity.
One way to experience the similarities between the two sides, and appreciate their differences, is through food. Cypriot desserts are just one small, delicious way of doing this.
Don’t think that all Cypriot desserts are inspired by other cultures. Mahalepi is a truly exceptional dish native to the island. It is a combination of a soft cornstarch custard and rose syrup. On first glance, it looks like a pink and white soup. This “soup” is typical in summer because it is always served chilled and thus, is very refreshing.
Most people visit Cyprus in the summer. Whether you’re walking around the old cities or relaxing on a beach, in this season’s heat, a bit of ice cream is the perfect treat. The island is full of unique ice cream shops selling an assortment of exciting, local flavors.
While many feature nuts, honey, and nougat, one of the best and most vibrant options is rose. Part of what makes this flavor so special is that it speaks of the Turkish influence. On the other hand, most desserts from Greece make walnuts or honey the key taste. Rose ice creams are more common further east. Turkish ice cream, however, is of a different texture than the version served up on the south-side of the island. Therefore, creamy rose ice cream is a unique blend of these two traditions.
Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus all love kataifi. They are small but very sweet treats. These little nests are made of shredded phyllo, honey or sugar syrup, and nuts. Their size and sweetness complement Cypriot coffee perfectly. Get the recipe for these and some other Cypriot treats at Cyprus for Travelers.
Every café in Cyprus serves frappé. This iced coffee comes in various degrees of sweetness but is always pretty strong. The base, (Cypriot coffee) is akin to espresso in its caffeine levels. It is superior in taste though! Unlike coffee enjoyed North of the Balkans, Cypriot coffee is made on the stove in a special, open kettle called a mbrikia.
If frappés aren’t your style but you still want to try Cypriot coffee, cafés also serve small, hot cups. Make sure to order your coffee either glykis (sweet), metrios (medium), or sketos (unsweetened).
Loukoumi is what Cypriots call Turkish delight. Despite the obvious association with Turkey, loukoumi are popular throughout the island. Like Turkish delight in other countries, both sides of the island offer almond, pistachio, walnut, rose, and vanilla options. These delicacies are also great for cutting bitter sketos Cypriot coffee.
Muhallebi is the Cypriot version of rice pudding. What makes it unique though, is that it does not contain full grains of rice. Instead, they use rice flour. This changes the consistency making it more similar to other puddings than traditional rice pudding. The spices and other ingredients are all the same otherwise, so the taste is comparable.
Cypriot desserts are a fascinating mixture of Turkish and Greek culinary traditions. But at the same time, they express the island’s individuality. They combine textures and flavors that aren’t common otherwise, alter details in popular recipes or create new ones like mahalepi. All of this makes for a wide array of sweets that are hard to find off the island. So travel here to enjoy not only the wonderful beaches and historical locations, but also the local Cypriot desserts.