Pots of bubbling slow cooked food. Tender melt in your mouth meat, pulses drenched in lemon and oil, fluffy roast potatoes teasing the taste buds, with the obligatory cooked tomato and onion reminding you that this is Cyprus. Simple, filling, home cooked deliciousness. No airs and graces, no fancy décor, no gourmet touches. This article is all about traditional wholesome Cypriot grub. Nothing less, nothing more. And if you’re spending some time in the old historic part of the capital, nothing beats a real taste of where tradition comes to life. Knives and forks at the ready: here are some top spots My Cyprus Insider recommends that you try out!
1. Mattheos Restaurant, 28th October Square, behind Faneromeni Church and Square
A family run establishment attracting a lunchtime crowd with the lovely Mattheos Georgiou dashing around the place as proud owner and cook, this place is tucked away in one of the most picturesque corners of the capital steeped in history, near Faneromeni High school and Faneromeni Church, right beside an old mosque. Previously on Ermou Street years ago, Mattheos has been luring hungry diners to this very spot since the early 1980s.
You may be sitting in the centre of the capital, but the setting is wonderfully peaceful and idyllic, with half a dozen plastic orange chairs (now a trademark!) and tables outside, and an interior dotted with quirky knick knacks, newspaper clippings and framed reviews.
Like most traditional eateries, you can tuck into some fabulous homecooked meat, including afelia (marinated pork in red wine) and lamb tava (baked with potatoes). There are plenty of veggie dishes in the mix too, with two types of pulses on the menu each day – Mattheos proudly exclaims that foreigners love the black eyed beans – with the moussaka also a big hit. The stuffed vegetables and the kolokasi (taro in red sauce) are also must try’s. With 28-30 different dishes on the menu every day, the prices are pretty cheap too…so tuck in and enjoy!
Where? 28th October Square, behind Faneromeni Church. Open for lunch only. Monday – Saturday until 4pm. Tel: (+357) 22-755846
2. Siandris Restaurant, just off Ledra Street
This gem of a place has made it into countless international travel guides and for good reason: the food is bound to leave you hungry for more! With the boisterous Siandris as the star of the show alongside his wife Zena, they have both been working hard in the kitchen since 1969 when the family run establishment first opened as little more than a hole in the wall across the road. Frequented by just about anyone and everyone, from politicians to architects, artists to nearby shopkeepers, they all stop by for their delicious daily foodie fix. Love veggie dishes? We recommend their moujentra (lentils with rice), pizeli (peas in tomato sauce) and fasolia yiahni (beans in tomato sauce with potatoes).
Carnivores simply must tuck into the tender meat dishes, with plenty of regulars raving about their rabbit, while others love their keftedes (fried meat balls) and koupepia (vine leaves stuffed with rice and minced meat). As for sides, their kritharaki (orzo) is always delicious while everyone seems to tuck into their roast potatoes – slightly oily, but ever so tasty nonetheless! Keep in mind that there are different specials to choose form every day, so you won’t always find the same thing on the menu.
Do keep in mind that eating at Siandris will cost a little more than most restaurants specialising in Cypriot lunchtime fare, but you will be getting good quality. And do ask Siandris for some Zivania to wash it all down – he will be delighted by your request and an ice cold shot will land on your table before you’ve had the chance to blink!
Where? Pericleous Street, parallel to Ledra Street. Open for lunch only. Monday – Saturday 3.30 -4pm. Tel: (+357) 22-671549
3. Estiatorio Tis Evroullas, Stoa Klokkari, connecting Ledra Street with Onasagorou Street
Tucked away in the now very busy Stoa Klokkari passageway that connects Ledra and Onasagorou Streets, beside the popular Pieto café, is the well-known Evroullas. And why is it so popular? It offers simple, tasty and cheap lunchtime fare. Artists, journalists, business men, tourists….you name it, heaps of people congregate here when the clock strikes 1pm!
Crowded over a tiny kitchen, Evroulla keeps busy cooking up a storm, with her husband also working hard day in and day out. Souvlakia in pitta bread seem to be one of the most popular hits, served with freshly cut chips (we do love the fact that they are not frozen), while her pork chop in wine also goes down a treat. But then again, her pulses always sell out, much like her spaghetti Bolognese and stuffed veggies. There are five specials on the menu every day, with souvlakia available on a daily basis. And this place is also open at night (except Wednesday) and all weekend, just for grilled meats. A word of warning: Evroullas gets packed at lunchtime so do head here before the 1-2pm madness if you want to secure a table without having to wait too long.
Where? Klokkari Arcade, Nicosia. Open Monday to Friday for traditional lunch time fare. Open every evening for grilled meats (except Wednesdays), as well as Saturday and Sunday until 11.30pm. Tel: (+357) 22-665346