It would come as no surprise that a country poised between East and West would be ripe for fusion. Cyprus, whose cuisine traditionally draws from the Mediterranean, is in the midst of change. Its cuisine is now all about fusion, says George Katastrofas, executive chef, Hilton Park Nicosia.
At a tasting of Cypriot cuisine in Delhi, Katastrofas, who trained at Le Cordon Bleu, London, created alongside traditional Greek-Cypriot classics like halloumi-rocket-tomato salad and horiatiki (greens with tomato, feta, olive and olive oil), a dish of oyster served on a bed of lentils. Katastrofas, who was at the Eros–Managed by Hilton New Delhi in late February, spoke about Cypriot flavours, old and new. Edited excerpts:
What are the typical flavours of Cypriot cuisine?
Cypriot cuisine typically draws from the flavours of the Mediterranean and we use a lot of herbs in our cooking as they are freely available in our country, like parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, as well as bay leaf, coriander. We also use red wine, olives, and always, olive oil. The European influence also gives better styling and presentation for the food. The Asian influence finds us using a lot of cumin, unlike most other Mediterranean countries. The other difference from most Mediterranean countries is a high usage of tomatoes, as they are abundant in Cyprus. So our version of many dishes made in other Mediterranean countries contains tomato—for instance, Chicken Fasolaki (a dish of chicken and green beans cooked in tomatoes) is typically cooked without the tomatoes in Greece.
Give us an example of a traditional Cypriot menu for special occasions like weddings.
There are two types of weddings in Cyprus—the new style, which involves cocktails and a big gala, and the old style, with a big traditional dinner. A traditional menu would be about six courses, with Lamb Kleftiko (pieces of lamb marinated with tomatoes and bay leaf, and grilled for about 4 hours); roasted potatoes; pourgouri, our cereal staple of Bulgur wheat cooked with tomato, water, chopped onion; Pork Afelia (pork cooked in red wine, crushed coriander); Souvla (big pieces of meat chargrilled); Greek Salad on the side; and for dessert, halva and Dakhtila (a dough pastry with nuts and cinnamon, deep fried and dipped in syrup).
Tell us about the origin of the Kleftiko.
The name Kleftiko derives from “for thieves”. The dish comes from the time people travelled around, stole animals from farms and cooked them and ate them. It’s now one of our favourite traditional dishes!
Why did fusion cuisine become so big in Cyprus, to the extent that you say fusion defines contemporary Cypriot cuisine?
Fusion cuisine is the result of Cypriots travelling all over the world and wanting to experience the same flavours back home. This, added to the fact that Cyprus itself is now a tourist hub with people from all parts of the world travelling here, means that the cuisine is absorbing all these international flavours.
Has anything from India found its way into your cooking?
This being my first visit to India, I am tasting real Indian food for the first time: I have tried it at home but there we just get one type of curry, which is also from ready-made curry powder. Here, there are so many ways of making curries, and each ingredient demands a different curry. The one Indian ingredient that I have experimented with—which I have used right away—is the lentil. In Cyprus, there is just one type of lentil but here there are so many. I just had to use it!