Everyone knows that Cyprus is famous for its food, a combination of the best of Greek and Middle East cuisine. But what if you don’t eat meat, or you just fancy a change? The good news is that there is a whole world of delicious meat free food to discover in Cyprus.
Historically meat eating in Cypriot cuisine was always a luxury. Meat was expensive, so for many it would be meat on Sunday, vegetables, pulses and grains for the rest of the week. The famous Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagaros established an entire school of ascetic vegetarianism – and he lived a long and healthy life (for the time) on a diet of honey, barley, millet and raw or boiled vegetables. These remain staples to this day along with goat’s milk and cheese, olives, wild greens, figs and other fruit, raisins, capers, nuts and herbs. Even those who did not choose to live without meat made up the majority of their food from what could be harvested.
One of the main influences on non-meat cuisine has been the Greek Orthodox Church. The ‘fasting’ calendar of the church requires that for 48 days before Easter, 40 days before Christmas and lesser fasting periods throughout the year, people stop eating meat and animal products (with the exception of certain fish) – in total half the year is taken up by fasting. On the highest holy days such as Good Friday, even olive oil is not allowed. Although fewer people fast than before, it is still common particularly before Easter, in the period of Lent.
The beginning of the Lenten fast is celebrated in Cyprus and Greece on ‘Clean Monday’ (also know as ‘Green Monday’). It falls on the first Monday of the fasting period and at the end of the 10 day carnival period. Traditionally it is the day when the house is cleaned of all non-fasting foodstuffs. Even those who do not observe the fast enjoy themselves on the public holiday, heading out for picnics in the countryside and flying kites.
The advantage for those who want to avoid meat in Cyprus is that many wonderful dishes come in two versions – fasting and non-fasting. If you are in a restaurant you can ask for nistisima (fasting food).