The range of food and restaurants on offer in North Cyprus, especially in and around Girne, is enormous, from Turkish Cypriot cuisine to Chinese, Indian, Italian and French. For those who prefer home favourites, ‘British’ food is very widely available in the Girne/Lapta area. You can snack on a doner kebab from a street stall or savour dinner at a chic restaurant that can hold its own with top restaurants in Europe. Whichever cuisine you choose, standards are generally very good, as is the value for money.
Most local specialities will be familiar to visitors to Turkey – various meze (selection of hot and cold appetisers), börek (hot pastries stuffed with spinach, cheese or meat), kebab, kofte (spiced meatballs), dolma (stuffed vine leaves) and salads that feature aubergines, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, peppers (sometimes very hot), watercress, parsley, radishes and olives. Ordering a ‘full kebab’, which is available at many places, will result in a seemingly endless stream of delicious dishes being delivered to your table. A Cypriot speciality – though not found on many menus – is molohiya, which is a spinach-like vegetable cooked with lamb or chicken. Pilavuna is an oven-baked pastry made with talar cheese, eggs and milk. Cypriot pasta can look a little insipid compared with its Italian cousin, but is nevertheless delicious.
Freshly caught fish and seafood are widely offered, and include red and grey mullet, lobster, crab, mussels, bream, squid and sea bass. Fish is usually simply cooked, grilled or fried, though a few more sophisticated places offer it prepared in special sauces or as tasty casseroles. A fresh fish meze is a culinary highlight. Specifically Cypriot is the halloumi (or hellim) cheese, with that wonderful rubbery texture, often served grilled as a very tasty meze. There is also the crumbly white goat’s cheese, and thick creamy yoghurt (excellent on meat, mixed with herbs, or as a dessert, drizzled with local mountain honey). Good-quality fresh fruit according to season includes melons, cherries, apples, strawberries, bananas, figs, grapes, oranges, grapefruits and pears. Turkish delight is available in a variety of flavours, and those with walnuts or pistachios inside are especially delicious.
To wash it all down, there’s the cheap and widely available mineral water and the usual range of fizzy drinks, as well as delicious Cyprus lemonade (made from mandarins and lemons). Ayran (yoghurt drink) is cheap and also popular.
On the alcoholic front, the Turkish Efes beer is very good. A local beer, Goldfassl, previously produced in Gazimağusa, is no longer available. Wine is inexpensive in the big supermarkets and in a couple of specialists on the main road between Alsancak and Lapta, and there is an ever-increasing range of European and New World wines to supplement the local and Turkish favourites. In restaurants, ordering a bottle will certainly bump up the bill quite considerably. Local wines are greatly inferior to those from the Turkish mainland, as wine-making is a recently acquired skill in the north. A new winery offers some hope for the future, though. Of the mainland wines, those that are consistently the best are by Kavaklidere and Doluca. Kavaklidere produce the red Yakut, the white Çankaya and rosé Lâl. Doluca produce the red and white Doluca and the more upmarket red Villa Doluca. Buzbag is another well-known brand.
Many hotels and bars claim to make the best Brandy Sour, Cyprus’s signature cocktail, a combination of mild local brandy and lemon juice: do try one during your stay. Raki is the favoured spirit, clear and aniseed flavoured, drunk either neat with ice or mixed with water, when it turns cloudy, thus explaining its description as ‘lion’s milk’. It goes well with meze, fish and lamb. The Turkish raki is better than the local raki, for the same reasons as the wine. Then there’s the Turkish Cypriot version of grappa, zivana, and if you are feeling brave, Turkish Cypriot brandy and even something that is shamelessly marketed as whisky, distilled in Gazimağusa. Turkish coffee is widely drunk, introduced here, as elsewhere in the eastern Mediterranean, by the Ottomans in the 15th century. It is drunk sade (without sugar), orta (medium sugar) or şekerli (heavily sugared).
Increasingly, more Western-style coffees are becoming available, and you should be able to find your favourite cappuccino or latte in the major towns. Otherwise, be aware that instant coffee is often the standard alternative offering to Turkish coffee. Tea (çay) is also popular with locals, served in small glasses and – unlike in some Middle Eastern countries – not usually pre-sugared. ‘English’ tea is also widely available at hotels, and is offered up as the standard in more touristy establishments.