Looking for food porn, great culture and a few Jews? I know just the place

Cyprus has a beautiful history filled with rich culture, food and surprisingly, in an overwhelmingly Greek Orthodox country, Jews — with over 50,000 (including children) being held in detention camps during British rule. Now, seventy years after the Holocaust, Israelis flock to the small chain of islands in the Mediterranean to get married, explore and to party. Today, Cyprus is like Israel in many ways: terrible parking jobs galore (if you’ve ever lived in Israel, you know exactly what I’m talking about), beautiful women, amazing coffee and tons of Hebrew being spoken on the streets.

My visit to Cyprus was short, and I must admit, the first time I visited the country of just over a million (Israel being two times larger and just as densely populated). I’d come to Larnaca on a quest for food / culture experiences. I arrived on a Tuesday evening and went immediately for a quick beer, tasting semi-tasteless beer called KEO, which served its purpose of quenching my thirst. One led to two, and two eventually turned into, well, an additional shot or two. But who’s counting? 

As I began my initial search, I found KFC, Starbucks, McDonald’s Burger King and a few other western chains. Needless to say, things weren’t very promising, but my quest for delicious, authentic Cypriot food wasn’t over yet. I decided to give my search another shot the following day. I wandered down the sleepy streets of Larnaca and got much more than I bargained for.

Finally, I found a local restaurant, nestled in the middle of the city. As I walked in, I was greeted with a loud English “HELLO,” so naturally, I felt at home. After a bit of small talk and much debate about what I’d eat, I decided to ask the owner’s son (and chef) to prepare an authentic Cypriot dish–and that he did.

I must warn you, none of the dishes I speak about are kosher, none of them, as the majority of Cypriot dishes include pork. And trust me, they utilize it to the fullest. Another quick side note: I usually don’t eat pork, but I figured when in Rome, well, you know how the saying goes. I didn’t want to go all the way there just to avoid eating the major ingredient in most of the Island’s food.

After the meal, which included pork souvlaki, pork meatballs wrapped in pig intestines, a simple salad with tomatoes and cucumbers, fried cheese called Haloumi, other cuts of grilled pork, tahini, chips (French Fries) and a smorgasbord of other food and liquor, I was ready to meet more locals and hear their stories.

I then made my way to over to Finikoudes Beach in a food-drunken-frenzy, a quaint beach overly saturated with tourist. I immediately approached a gentleman cleaning a large docked boat who was from the Philippines. He agreed to let me board the ship and take a short tour. He told me about how he came to Cyprus and how he worked giving tours of a local shipwreck. I thanked him for his time and hospitality, then I met one of the most animated individuals I’d ever met.

This sixty-something retiree was born and raised in Larnaca, a knower of all things, fashionable, hilarious and had a special connection to Eretz Israel. He worked as a volunteer (in a small dilapidated office) near the pier, teaching local children how to navigate the sea. In short, he was the equivalent of a BoyScout troop leader. He told me story after story, about how life was great in Cyprus and how he’d met a number of Israelis volunteering with his troop and how the children and their mentors sailed to Cyprus time after time. He then pointed me to a flag that he’d received from an Israeli group from Haifa many years prior, of which he was extremely proud.

American-style street food in Larnaca was also interesting, and something I didn’t expect to find. Thanks to The Potbelly, also located in central Larnaca, I was able to get my dose of delicious pulled pork, coleslaw, chips and other simple yet flavorful foods like frankfurters featured on their menu. I struck up conversation with the owner, a late twenty-something with an academic background in nutrition and business. Needless to say, I was confused by the combination, but the taste of the food spoke for itself.

Nearing the end of my trip, I went for a food tour with Cyprus Taste Tours, which is headed up by an extremely knowledgeable tour guide, Yoita. She had a delightful British accent as I discovered many Cypriots do because of British rule over the land prior to the state’s independence. We ventured to two places that day, which provided me with enough food for at least two additional days. A high school teacher by day, and a food-lover by night, she and a business partner run the tour company, leading foreigners like myself on curated tour of the Cyprus food scene.

First stop on the tour was at Vasos’ Cookhouse, where I practically inhaled Afelia (pork slow cooked on the stove in wine and coriander seeds) with potatoes and giouyalakia (pork and rice meatballs in an egg-based, lemon, sage and chick stock soup).

As if that wasn’t enough, our final stop on the tour was at Alasia, owned by Christina (a firecracker of a lady, with bright red hair to match who greeted me in Hebrew). There, we ordered a Kouba (minced pork, onion, parsley, cinnamon wrapped in bulgur wheat and deep fried) and a bourekki (deep fried pastry stuffed with local anari cheese made from sheep’s milk). I was stuffed and ready to return to Israel with a deeper appreciation for a cuisine that’s only an hour flight away.

Overall, I learned a lot, and came away from this experience with a newfound love for pork (ironically enough as a Jew living in Israel). Although I won’t continue to eat it, it was great while it lasted. I’d say, Larnaca is one hell of a place, inexpensive, great scenery, so much history and creative cocktail lounges. But if you’re expecting a wild Tel Aviv night, you might want to visit one of the larger Islands, which in the end, still doesn’t quite compare to a night out on Rothschild.

About the Author
Moshe Beauford is a freelance journalist, copywriter and blogger. Beauford’s work has appeared in publications such as GeekTime Israel, PasteMagazine, Times of Israel, Property Casualty 360 and Claims.
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