Eating Cyprus

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I was young when I went to Cyprus for several months with a friend.
It’s hard to believe that at nineteen I was the responsible adult of the team. She was just seventeen and we were both young and unsure of ourselves.
I don’t regret going while I was young but I know I would appreciate it differently if I went now.
We didn’t know how to be thrifty but also cook great food and we didn’t realize what fresh and delicious food surrounded us. So we made large spaghetti dinners and rice casseroles, barely utilizing all the local foods and flavors available to us.
We did spend a large chunk of our money at the bakery down the street where we consumed large quantities of incredible baklava and indulged in the fresh squeezed juices that were so inexpensive.
When I think back to that time I don’t regret any of the meals we ate out or spent our well hoarded money on. We were romanced by the restaurant owner down the street who encouraged us to try new things and eat more and more, and worried over by our English landlady who worried both about our diet and our lack of planning and adventuring out. Thanks to the two of them we ate well, tried new dishes, branched out, saw new sights, and enjoyed our time so far away from home on an island halfway between Europe and the Middle East.
Cyprus is a cultural confusion in some ways. It’s Greek in so many ways, including flavors and traditions. Britain has had a military standing there for long enough that it’s influence is deep and strong and the fish and chips are delicious surrounded by water like it is. The north of Cyprus is occupied by Turkey and has a culture and flavor all it’s own.
Subtle things make you realize what a divided island it is, from the “Greek delight” sold to tourists on one side while “Turkish delight” is sold on the other. To the fact that you have to have a visa for crossing the border but they won’t put it directly in your passport as Turkish occupied Cyprus isn’t a recognized country and the visas presence could hinder your travel plans in the future. Driving across the border and crossing the UN safety corridor is enough to convince you that something is wrong.
Two different cultures with such strong and flavorful food combined on one island could make for some delicious fusion but the food is as divided as the island. And while they use so many of the same seasonings and ingredients they want you to see them as different, as seperate. Because while they food may bring us together in so many ways it also has the power to show us that we’re different, to help us claim who we are when who we are is being challenged or denied.
I’m glad I went to Cyprus young and experienced it the way I did. I learned a lot and have become a better traveller and a better eater because of that trip. I would like to go back though, a little older and a little wiser, and see with new eyes the way the island is separated and the families and people who are affected by politics around them. I would like to go back and eat there again, feed myself on their island vegetables and their many cultured seasonings.
Travel has a way of feeding us in ways we don’t always realize at the time. It opens our eyes to new foods, new ways of eating, and, when we’re paying attention, it teaches us about food and the people who eat it.

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