Cyprus haunts my steps. It paints the colour of my skin, twists in my hair, flares in my temper and infuses my strength as a woman. Even before I first visited as a child from London, my ethnicity lay restless in the clouds of the city, warring in silence to reign over my identity. It was constant. You may absorb other cultures and values as you engage in our global community but there are remnants of your ethnicity that stay with you forever (for good and ill!)
A family member recently told me that he believed I was able to live happily in my non-Cypriot marriage because I was not very Greek. I am not sure exactly what ‘being very Greek’ looks like and I am still processing whether I agree with him, BUT one thing I know hands down is that I will never NOT be Greek. And one of the reasons I know this is because of food! As much as I love Japanese, Indian, Hispanic or Italian etc cuisines, they will not have the same nostalgic effect as when I eat Cypriot flavours. (Even though I am Greek-Cypriot, I say Cypriot flavours because the island’s cuisine has been unquestionably influenced by it’s middle eastern neighbours creating a slightly different culinary character than that of the Greek mainland.) Yes I hate lamb and I don’t like eating olives but it’s more than just single food items. It’s a style of cooking, a seasoning, a mix of ingredients that make up a gastronomic ethnicity. For example, I believe my love of Tappas and all forms of shared eating is directly correlated to my innate bond to Mezes where we bring out mountainous collections of various dips, prepared vegetables, meats and/or fish, and pass them around the table for several hours, drinking, eating and laughing together. I know this could be passed off as just liking the food my mother made when we were kids but I was blessed with an experimental chef in our kitchen and Mum made all kinds of delicious international dishes from as early as I can remember. But, her koubebia (rice and meat wrapped in grape leaves) or her macaronia tou fornou (pasta baked with ground meat, feta, and bechamel sauce) have a completely different sense of home for me than her wonderful cannelloni or chicken pot pie.
This all became evident to me during our visit to see family in Cambridge this Christmas. We were treated to a full-on Cypriot barbecue/grill-out including the traditional roles of women indoors preparing the dips, salads and sides, and the men congregating around the Foukou (Cypriot style grill) breathing in the masculine flames of the fire. And what did this afternoon ritual of gender bonding and slow cooking meat produce?
Chicken and Pork Kebabs grilling over hot charcoal with pitta bread absorbing all the smokey goodness
Loukanika and Pasturma (Cypriot seasoned sausages)
yes that’s right, I said lamb’s heart.
The whole spread of salads, meats and dips. Among some were…
Kapari (pickled caper leaves)
All photos were taken by my brother, the talented photographer, musician, foodie and IT genius. For more of his work visit Dreamstate Reality.