Turn a meal into an experience
Wherever you may live in North Cyprus, you are never far from the sea, and one of the great pleasures of life here is to sit by the Mediterranean and enjoy a meal of fish.
The Cypriots are traditionally meat lovers, mostly lamb, roasted and grilled in various styles and, confusingly but universally referred to as “kebab.” Yet in recent years there has been a big increase in the number of fish restaurants. Many of these are “meyhanes,” a Turkish-style tavern that turns any meal into an experience.
Diners mostly sit at long tables and rightly, take their time tasting their way through a myriad of “meze,” small plates of hot and cold delicacies, similar to Spanish tapas. Watch out for the innocent-looking little bowl of fluffy white yoghurt with a dash of red sauce sitting on top. It’s a fiery chili mix to make a Mexican dance on his hat.
And go easy. Don’t think of meze as just “starters.” It’s an integral part of the meal and given there may be 20 or more small dishes involved, you’l need to take your time and leave room for the second stage. This will likely be a simple grilled fish with chips and salad. Bream and sea bass are the usual suspects, though depending on the season you might be offered swordfish, red mullet, or the delightfully-named voppa – which despite the sound, are roughly the size of sardines.
The meyhane is the perfect place for a meal with family and friends in a traditional atmosphere. If you want the full local experience you should take a glass of rakı, one after the other, to help the conversation flow. It seems that many meyhanes have realised that this milky- white aniseed drink is not to everyone’s taste, so wine has started to appear.
Lovely as they are swimming in the sea, I do like to see my fish swimming in lemon and butter. That’s the way I serve up one of my local favourites, grouper, or Lagos. Ask the fishmonger to give you meaty fillets, lightly coat the surface in breadcrumbs, then pan fry in butter and a drop of olive oil for just a few minutes, until the skin turns brown. Squeeze on fresh lemon and throw in a handful of capers, more butter, swill around the warm pan – so easy.