Antwerp, Belgium -- Paphos is the traditional home of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sex and sexuality. In the Odyssey, the "Papheian" one came to this vine-covered region curled up against the southwest coast of Cyprus after being caught in adultery with the god of war, Ares. She salved her wounded self-esteem with a total makeover by her assisting goddesses of cosmetics and body lotion (olive oil-based, of course).
Our lunch in Paphos was marked by the same kind of (culinary) orgasmic excess that Aphrodite inspired in her vict-- um... worshippers.
Myrra Tavern is well-known in Cyprus for its craft cuisine, practiced by owners Andreas and Antigone Nicolaou. We knew nothing of this when we sat down in the leafy front courtyard, hungry after a swim off Aphrodite's Rock. I was seriously considering drinking beer or a Fanta when Andreas let slip that his wine was homemade. I ordered a glass of red forthwith.
In addition to this fresh, smooth vintage, Andreas makes his own halloumi, a goat cheese with a rubbery texture which is perfect grilled (400 goats on his own land contribute the raw materials for this creation). We got plates of this with a homemade lounza, a dark, cumin-laced sausage that crumbled and bit in the mouth like chorizo.
With good blonde bread and a Greek salad (cabbage, feta, tomatoes, cucumber, fresh cilantro and mint), the halloumi-lounza combo would have made a perfectly serviceable lunch. But then a cascade of small plates (mezes) gushed onto the table-- a total of 16 in all.
I will attempt to summarize:
Prawns with heads on grilled and basted in olive oil;
two kinds of ground pork meatballs, one grilled (siefdalia), one fried (siefteres);
grilled, salted whole pieces of chicken;
tzadziki (yogurt, cucumber, garlic dip)
fish roe spread (pink, made with corn oil and whipped);
delicate handmade ravioli, filled with feta and cinnamon;
a scramble of eggs and zucchini;
gigantes (giant white beans like favas in a olive oil-tomato sauce);
potato salad seasoned with fresh coriander, olive oil, and vinegar;
chicken souvlaki (shish kebabs).
All this, and Andreas told us his organic vegetable garden was just beginning to yield its best produce.
Our Fulbright Seminar to Greece and Cyprus culinary education began at the Cozy Burger restaurant on May 28 in lower Manhattan, where Greek immigrants originated an American menu that has fed New Yorkers for decades. It stars an outsized, juice-filled cheeseburger topped with mushrooms.
In Astoria, in the Bronx, we dined alongside Greek-Americans in a blue-and-white room, and Pauline, teacher of lonely Greek Orthodox seminary students, read my coffee grounds.
In Spetses, Greece, we discovered fried zucchini chips and skordalia (garlic salad), which admirably completes a dish of fried catch-of-the-day.
In Cyprus the meatballs, chunks of pure caloric substantiality, could sustain you through a morning of guide lectures-- or put you to sleep through the afternoon.
Fresh coriander was everywhere, freshening everything it touched.
On the north side of Cyprus, we saw that Turkish folk love the same grilled or fried small, sweet fish I enjoyed with Keti in Nafplion, Greece.
Fresh fruit was everywhere-- watermelon, cherries, plums, figs, endless oranges, mandarins with a drunk tanginess sold off the back of a truck, quartered lemons to be squeezed on everything from souvlaki to salad. And the sweetest grapefruit, sweet enough to be peeled and fed by hand to one's sweetest heart.
To say nothing of the peanut brittle coated with sesame seeds, the pistachios in their shells, the caramel-covered almonds, the raisins, the...
On the flight to London early Sunday morning, Cathy, a classics convert of the first degree, peeled a Cyprus orange in the desiccated atmosphere of the main cabin. Nectar sprayed from under her nail, where the peel was separating from the pith.
Suddenly the air was filled with a tang stamping itself forever as Cyprus orange mist. One section of this orange was enough to make me virtuously forego the rasher of bacon wrapping the eggs of our British Airways English breakfast.
In Belgium, visiting my beloved uncle, I have discovered 100 percent cocoa butter chocolates, and Alain de Botton, whose The Art of Travel I'm scanning through now. He writes that the anticipation of travel and the actual moments of travel are fundamentally different things, though they seem to resemble each other. He asserts, furthermore, that one seldom anticipates the small, absurd, boring, or fearful things one actually experiences when on the road.
I would like to say for the record that what I anticipated about Greece and Cyprus and what I actually experienced were the exact opposites of Botton's paradigm. I anticipated some boredom and fear, but what I actually got was an A+ perfect travel experience, thanks to the Greece and Cyprus Fulbright staffs and their travel agency partners.
The lunch in Paphos was a microcosm of this experience: varied, delightful, illuminating, delicious-- one long climax.