For most of us who like to visit foreign shores for our holidays, the evening meal forms one of the highlights of our travels. The opportunity to sample food that we can’t try at home is one that shouldn’t be missed and while variations of most dishes are available in Britain, the freshness and quality of ingredients can only make a local variety of a seemingly familiar dish on a completely different level to the one on offer in our local restaurant.
Perhaps nowhere is this local freshness more in evidence than in the Cypriot meze, where a bewildering variety of up to 30 dishes is brought out to enjoy over the course of a long evening. While the portions are small, the regular arrival of new plates on your quickly filling table will test the endurance of any diner – working up a healthy appetite is essential preparation for a meze!
So what food can you expect to sample in a meze? Here are just a few of the regular dishes you can expect to be brought to your table.
Taramasalata – a pink fish-roe paste
Houmous – chick pea dip
Tsatziki – a cucumber based yoghurt dip
These are best eaten using fresh pitta bread to dip. While the names of these dishes may appear in your local supermarket back at home, rest assured that you will barely recognise any similarity, such is the quality of a good freshly prepared selection of dips.
Halloumi – this typical Cypriot cheese is made from sheep’s or goat’s milk and has a very distinctive rich flavour. It is usually grilled and often served with fresh tomatoes.
Feta cheese – a familiar Greek soft cheese that is soaked in a salty brine and chopped into chunks before serving in a fresh salad
Souvlaki – Cypriot style kebabs, most commonly with lamb but can be with chicken or even with halloumi as a vegetarian option.
Keftedakia – simple but effective, these small meatballs are filled with onions and herbs and fried in olive oil
Stifado – a delicious beef stew made with onions, tomatoes herbs and wine. In a good stifado the meat will be extremely tender and will almost melt in your mouth
There are many other dishes and each meze you enjoy will have slight variations, but without exception you’re guaranteed to be well fed by the time dessert arrives. Yes there’s more! Typically a selection of fresh fruit will be brought to signify the end of the main courses. Extra sweet pastries will accompany a cup of thick, black and very sweet Cypriot coffee.
And to help digest the last of your feast, what better than a glass of the famous Commandaria wine, made on the island and said to be the world’s oldest commercial wine.
A meze is much more than just an evening meal. It’s a social event, a celebration of local produce, a source of personal pride for the chef, and a strange mix of enjoyment and stamina for the diner. Just make sure you arrive for your meze hungry. Yamas!
Photo credit: http://www.heatheronhertravels.com/.