Turkish Cypriot Delicacies Represents and Evokes


A waiter locations a ladder towards one of many palm bushes that encompass Niazi’s Restaurant in Famagusta, Cyprus. He swiftly ascends to the highest rung to reap one of many plentiful clusters of dates that dangle from the tree. A couple of minutes later, a few of these dates—sticky candy, nearly overripe—are on our desk, together with a basket of oven-fresh lavaş and black olives, seasoned with crimson pepper flakes and oregano. 

At first look, Niazi’s might be any Turkish ocakbaşı—a style of restaurant that focuses on kebabs. That is the delicacies many individuals anticipate after they hear the phrases “Turkish meals”—chunks of lamb, beef and rooster grilled over charcoal. The dishes are acquainted, if not ubiquitous. However we quickly uncover Niazi’s is something however typical. 

The restaurant was based by Niyazi Aydeniz in 1949 on the south coast of Cyprus in Limassol. What began as a small, roadside restaurant in a fuel station parking zone expanded right into a thriving enterprise, significantly well-liked with the English troopers stationed on the then British colony. Right now, Niazi’s has places in Kyrenia, Famagusta and Nicosia.

The server recommends the mounted menu, which Niazi’s calls “the complete kebab.” It’s recommendation nicely heeded. First comes an assortment of chilly meze: oven-roasted eggplant and zucchini served chilled with a drizzle of garlic yogurt, small bowls of hummus, and minty cacık. Subsequent, a giant, leafy salad generously doused in lemon juice and olive oil, topped with heirloom tomatoes and rings of uncooked onion. It’s easy, however like most issues at Niazi’s, it’s executed with an consideration to element. Maybe the standard is finest attributed to the very fact all of Niazi’s produce comes from its personal organically-farmed vegetable backyard. 

Then the meat arrives. Spicy, gamey şeftali kebab is paired with köfte, meatballs seasoned with parsley and cumin. Thick cuts of halloumi cheese—a salty mix of goat and sheep’s milk—is pan fried till crispy. Shish kebabs with chunks of caramelized fats are dramatically de-skewered tableside, quickly joined by a plate of lamb döner and uncooked onion, sprinkled with a beneficiant dusting of sumac. 

The biggest course then arrives: a spicy Adana kebab—a mix of floor beef and crimson pepper. It’s a continuing carousel of programs that enlists a lot of the wait workers; it’s an train in epicurean indulgence that assessments the bounds of even essentially the most hedonistic carnivore. The opulent menu is finest loved with mates and digested over small cups of bitter Cypriot espresso. 

“It’s the whole lot that Turks love—definitely the whole lot that I like,” says Selin Kiazim, chef and companion at Oklava, a restaurant in London’s Shoreditch neighborhood. “We at all times loved going there as a household.” 

Selin Kiazim, Chef and Associate of Oklava

Kiazim is a London native, however grew up spending summers along with her grandparents in Northern Cyprus. On particular events Kiazim’s household would dine at Niazi’s Kyrenia location. Most meals, nevertheless, got here from her grandmother’s kitchen. For Kiazim, recollections of her grandmother cooking for the household offered the muse for Oklava, named for the Turkish phrase for “rolling pin.” 

“I consider essentially the most unbelievable salads we’d go and choose from the backyard,” says Kiazim. “All the issues she would bake along with her oklava—her börek, [and] her fantastic bread, which we make every single day on the restaurant precisely how she makes it.” 

If Niazi’s is the seventy-year-old basic, an untouched time capsule of culinary custom—Oklava is the iconoclastic innovator, updating cherished recipes for the twenty-first century. For Kiazim, conventional Cypriot recipes are much less of a template and extra of the launching pad, as captured in her cookbook, Oklava: Recipes from a Turkish-Cypriot Kitchen.

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Regardless of Oklava’s modernist prospers, traditionalists will discover a lot they’ll respect. The flatbreads, lahmacun and pide, are fired in a brick oven. Though the wine record principally options Turkey, Georgia and Armenia, Oklava’s house-made ayran—a salted yogurt drink—is served the standard Cypriot method with dried mint flakes. 

In distinction to most of the flavors one would possibly anticipate from the Japanese Mediterranean, Cypriot delicacies tends to be understated in relation to seasoning. For Kiazim, this displays the purity of the native substances. “The produce that grows on the island is unbelievable. Little or no must be finished to it. Simply choose it, wash it, and cook dinner it,” she says. 

It’s a sentiment shared by Greek Cypriot meals author Paola Papacosta. “What is actually necessary in our meals is the simplicity of it,” she says. Papacosta publishes the Nicosia-based meals weblog Cypriot and Proud. Papacosta refers to a large number of influences; “We’re in between Greece, Turkey, Egypt and the Center East, in addition to having been conquered by each historic civilization.”

The cosmopolitan inhabitants of the island displays its historical past as a maritime crossroads. Cyprus is the third largest Mediterranean island and the eastern-most European Union member state. Geographically, the island is nearer to Lebanon and Syria than its closest EU neighbor. Traditionally, Greek, Turkish, Armenian and Maronite Cypriots lived side-by-side, sharing a typical Cypriot identification regardless of variations in faith and ethnicity. 

However the whole lot modified in 1974.

An Island Divided

Turkish Cypriots make up roughly twenty p.c of Cyprus’ inhabitants. The neighborhood dates again to when the Ottoman Empire conquered the island in 1570, then a Venetian possession. The Ottomans leased the island to the British in 1878, and in 1923 the newly shaped Republic of Turkey relinquished any declare to the island on the treaty of Lausanne.

The big majority of Cyprus is ethnically Greek. Below British rule, many Greek Cypriots started to battle for enosis, or unification with Greece. In 1960, the newly shaped Republic of Cyprus obtained independence, with the UK, Greece and Turkey performing as guarantors of the brand new nation state. Many Cypriots, nevertheless, by no means gave up on unification with Greece. After a rocky fourteen years of self-governance, the nationwide guard, backed by the army dictatorship in Greece, overthrew the Cypriot authorities in a coup d’etat. 

Turkey rapidly responded. Below the auspices of defending the Turkish Cypriot minority, Turkish armed forces rapidly secured the north coast in an amphibious assault. Paratroopers landed within the capital of Nicosia. Town of Famagusta was bombed. Quickly nearly forty p.c of the island was underneath Turkish management. 

British troopers combating towards Greek Cypriot protesters. Nicosia, Cyprus, 1956.

Within the aftermath of the Turkish invasion, Greek Cypriots within the north have been compelled to relocate to the south, and Turkish Cypriots in flip relocated to the north. Many households misplaced all of their possessions. 

In all, greater than thirty p.c of the island’s inhabitants was displaced by the battle, together with the Aydeniz household, who have been compelled to maneuver from Limassol to Kyrenia. It could take them a number of years to reopen Niazi’s. Forty-five years later, greater than 1,500 individuals—each Greek and Turkish Cypriots—are nonetheless lacking. The invention of mass graves, many our bodies with their palms tied, reveal ethnic cleaning dedicated by either side.

In 1983, the Turkish-controlled partition declared itself the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, an autonomous nation acknowledged solely by Turkey. For Greek Cypriots, and by affiliation the European Union, North Cyprus is Turkish-occupied Cyprus. 

Though most Cypriots have grown up with the established order, the injuries are nonetheless recent with the older era. “Many individuals are terrified of taking dangers, or scared to be blissful simply because they misplaced the whole lot forty years in the past— together with my in-laws,” says Papacosta. “We’ve a way of insecurity, however we love an excellent life a lot that we don’t let that have an effect on our on a regular basis lives.” 

Papacosta lives in Nicosia, which serves because the capital metropolis for either side. Town, like the entire island, is split by the “Inexperienced Zone,” a demilitarized strip of land patrolled by a United Nations peacekeeping power. Though 1000’s of individuals—principally sunburnt vacationers—freely cross between one among a number of checkpoints day by day, tensions nonetheless run excessive. On foot, the crossing is especially eery, as one passes by way of thirty odd meters of deserted buildings, largely untouched since 1974. 

Current makes an attempt to unify the island confirmed some promise, however have been sophisticated by the invention of offshore oil deposits. The thought of reunification enjoys broad well-liked assist on either side of the island, however politically, prospects of a united Cyprus appear as bleak as ever. “I might like to see [Cyprus reunited], however I’ve been listening to the identical headlines because the day I used to be born,” says Papacosta. “God assist us with that.”


A Frequent Delicacies

In Famagusta, a block away from Niazi’s, an inspirational message for the neighborhood streams in transferring lights between the dual minarets of the Osman Fazıl Polat Paşa Mosque: “Helal kazan, helal ye.” Acquire halal, eat halal.

It’s a message that maybe wants reinforcing, as Turkish Cypriots are likely to have lax attitudes in direction of Islamic dietary legal guidelines. Alcohol flows freely in North Cyprus and is basically untaxed. As a tie-over from British colonial days, Scotch outsells Turkish rakı because the libation of alternative. Nonetheless, pork—the predominant protein in Greek Cypriot delicacies—is noticeably absent. “They’re virtually the identical dishes,” says Kiazim. “One of many key variations is on the Greek aspect they use pork and on the north aspect they don’t.”

There’s maybe no higher instance of this than şeftali kebabı, referred to as sheftalia in Greek. For Turkish Cypriots, şeftali kebabı is the nationwide dish, as demonstrated by the very fact it’s usually translated as “Cypriot kebab” in English, reasonably than the literal “peach kebab.” “İt’s an unbelievable taste. It’s my favourite kebab,” says Kiazim, who gives her personal model of şeftali kebabı at Oklava.

Regardless of the native enthusiasm, it stays little identified off the island. “Even with individuals from Turkey, there’s a major quantity of people that have by no means heard of şeftali kebab,” she says. 

The Turkish model is a form of sausage, made with a mix of floor lamb, onion and spices. The combination is wrapped in caul fats—the membrane that surrounds the abdomen and different inner organs—reasonably than standard sausage casing. Many of the caul fats melts away because it’s grilled, making a chewy, caramelized crust. Greek Cypriots normally make the dish with pork, however the seasoning and preparation is nearly an identical. 

Whether or not it’s şeftali kebab, grilled halloumi cheese, or robust cups of Cypriot espresso, to an outdoor observer, Turkish and Greek Cypriot have extra commonalities than variations. “It was very a lot a shared island,” says Kiazim. “And these dishes have been born on that island.”

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