On Saturday, deep in the heart of the beautiful Akamas, sitting by Lara Bay and watching the waves caressing the sandy beach, I ordered two coffees and paid three euros. A day later, surrounded by the dusty and grey buildings of my hometown, I paid nearly ten for three soft drinks and a packet of crisps. For f**k’s sake! A coffee costs three to four euros in Limassol, more than nearly anywhere else in Europe, except maybe f***ing Nicosia, and a dinner at a good restaurant can set you back forty of your hard earned euros.
I hate euro notes. They feel like monopoly money. They go all soft and soggy when they get wet and they get torn easily. Worst of all, it still takes me a few minutes to register how much I’m paying. I’m always tempted to divide by two when converting back to Cyprus pounds (aka real money). By the time I realise I’m wrong, I’ve placed my order or handed over my cash and end up paying 13 f***ing euros for a cocktail that I can make better at home.
And I’m sick and tired of paying through the f***ing nose at all these fancy restaurants with foreign names. How can these people sleep at night when they charge me 20 euros for a bottle of wine that costs less than ten at the supermarket? I buy wine; I know how much it costs. They can’t fool me!
There is something else I find a little odd. An inordinate number of these fancy restaurants offer sushi even though they are not Japanese restaurants. Personally I want to be able to see my sushi chef in action. He must be Asian, preferably Japanese but I don’t really care if he’s Korean or Vietnamese- and to be honest I can’t f***ing tell any of them apart- and he must wield a big f***ing knife, preferably one with a Japanese steel blade. He must be able to use the knife with great dexterity and at high speed. Martial arts fighting cries are to be encouraged. “Hai-ya!” he can scream, as he fillets a whole salmon, and then with a “Kurosai-wa-ya!”, slices it into slivers. ” I don’t really care what he says, it would just be cool to hear him. “Yashica pearls! Mitsu-bee-shee! Kara-oh-kay! Waga-mama!”
The truth is that I love sushi and I’m actually willing to pay a great deal for good sushi. But I’m not sure if I’m willing to pay ridiculous sums for the Japanese beef they claim to sell at Japanese restaurants and at some of the modern new steakhouses. “Our beef is so tender because a little Japanese man massages the cows once a day and bottle-feeds them with beer” the waiter will say. F**k dude, I don’t care if he spoon-feeds them jello, jerks them off and gives them a foot massage! I’m not paying 30 euro for a slice of cow!
That is why I am so incredibly fed up with all these modern, flashy, fancy, expensive restaurants in town. I have made a choice, and my choice is to forage. I will forage not in the literal sense of collecting nuts and fruit off the ground, but in a more metaphorical sense of wandering in search of food. For the most part, I will wander to the villages.
Maritaki Stone Tavern
First stop: Pareklishia and the Maritaki Stone Tavern, where Mr Spyros’ demeanour ranges from very polite to rather abrupt depending on whether you piss him off or not. Mr Spyros named his tavern after his two kids, Maria and Takis. When a third was on the way, he racked his brains trying to think of a suitable name that would fit in with the name of his tavern. This is why his third daughter is named Rita.
Odd reasons for choosing his children’s names aside, Mr Spyros runs a tight ship. His mother does most of the cooking, but he helps, and the food is incredible. The stuffed marrow flowers, available when in season, are a special dish- you won’t find them at most taverns. The keftedes or fried meatballs are delicious and the scrambled eggs with vegetables perfectly cooked. The meat is tender and even the home-cured olives are tasty. Everything, from the bread to the preserved fruit at the end is just right.
And the price is perfect too. For 20 euros you can stuff yourself on food and wine and walk out full and with a huge smile on your face.
The Seven St Georges
Further afield, there are more great taverns. On the way to Paphos (a strange little country on the other side of a magic tunnel) , in the humble village of Yeroskipou, most famous for making Cyprus delight (the local version of Turkish delight if we’re going to be honest) is the tavern of the Seven St Georges. I don’t know why there are seven of them- you should ask Mr George , the owner, but I think there are seven churches dedicated to St George in the area. Apparently, St George liked killing Turks as well as dragons, or something like that, which is why he is so dearly loved by old fuddy-duddies the island over.
But that’s not important. What is important is the food, provided you first find the damn place. Everything is homemade, starting from the warm, freshly baked raisin bread and including the cured meats, such as the salty tsamarella. George and his wife Lara grow their own herbs and vegetables and also pick wild herbs from the area.
The food is fascinating- Cypriot fusion cusine, with touches of continental and Asian flavours. The yoghurt dip is all the more delicious for containing fresh cilantro rather than mint, the casseroles contain spices you’d expect to find in Arabic or Indian food but not in Greek food, and the pilafs are made with basmati. Somehow it all works perfectly. And it continues working until you hold your hand out and admit you can’t take any more. The tavern owner loves everyone but hates throwing away food, so its up to you to say “when”. Don’t forget that the puddings are delicious. But then again, everything is.
And that’s the thing. Some of the village taverns offer incredibly good food at reasonable prices, which has me wondering why I should give my money to the rip-off merchants in Limassol who can’t cook as well as I can but have the gall to charge me an arm and a leg (plus an additional limb for a bottle of wine). I’m f***ing tired of them. I aim to forage.
Sometimes my foraging will bring me back to town to try something new or someplace I have heard is interesting or special. But for the most part I aim to forage in the villages and hills of Cyprus, where the air is fresh, the people are friendly and the food is cheap. And I recommend you do the same. In fact, if you’re female, interesting and attractive, we could forage together. But don’t forget to bring your wallet.
Maritaki Stone Tavern, Pareklishia 25-634275
The Seven St Georges, Yeroskipou 26-963176