I just got back from a glorious week in the Northern Cyprus. The northern part of the island is a Turkish speaking republic, a nation which is legally divided from the Greek speaking southern part of the island. I suspect some of the Northern Cypriot culinary specialties I encountered during my trip are part of the Greek tradition, as well, but I did not pass to the Greek part of Cyprus so a full comparison will have to wait until my next trip.

Dinner at Hanife's house

My official introduction to Turkish Cypriot dining culture came during a feast at my friend Serdar’s aunts house. His Aunt Hanife is a prolific cook famous for her traditional recipes and börek (she even had her own börek shop for a time). At first when I suggested to Serdar that we have his aunts participate in a cook off, he suggested that the others would surrender and Hanife would win hands down. So we went to Hanife’s for dinner and arrived to find a massive spread of traditional dishes. Here is what we ate:

Dinner at Hanife's house

Tarhana: the classic recipe for this soup calls for crushed tomatoes, but the Cypriot version is made with yogurt, milk, and cracked wheat. Hanife served it with croutons and bits of halloumi. A common way to prepare tarhana is to cook the soup in advance, let it dry for a few days, store, and rehydrate when needed.

Dinner at Hanife's house

Börek: These lightly fried pockets are Hanife’s specialty. She prepared them with three different fillings: halloumi and herbs, minced meat and onions, and nor (a bland local cheese) mixed with sugar and mastic.

Dinner at Hanife's house

Çiçek dolması: These squash blossoms are filled with a rich mixture of rice, onions, tomatoes and herbs.

Fırında makarna: Pasta baked with minced meat, onions, cinnamon, and a creamy mild cheese sauce.

Dinner at Hanife's house

Gappar: The leaves from caper plants are brined and taste just like capers.

Dinner at Hanife's house

Molehiya: This stew is made with molehiya (a green leafy plant), chicken, tomatoes and stock. It is a classic Cypriot dish today, but its origins lie elsewhere. There is a bit of disagreement about where the recipe comes from. I found Africa, Egypt, and the Arab world as contenders in a preliminary search.

During our travels in the rest of northern Cyprus we encountered other typical dishes including:

Karpaz Peninsula, N Cyprus

Halloumi: Cyprus’ most famous food is a brined cheese that is often served grilled.

Karpaz Peninsula, N Cyprus

Şeftali Kebabı: The so-called “peach kebab” is minced meat wrapped in the fatty abdominal netting of a lamb’s abdomen. It is known for its succulence.

Karpaz Peninsula, N Cyprus

Mezes: Local olives, yogurt with herbs, beetroot, and hummus are typical starters.

For more on N Cyprus cuisine check out this website

Photo credit: Thanks to Serdar Ferit for his portrait of Aunt Hanife and lending me his lenses for the other shots.