By Alix Norman
Cyprus – A Culinary Journey is, without a doubt, one of the most professional, beautifully produced and extensively researched books ever to look at the island as a whole. It’s the type of book that will take pride of place on your coffee table (or in your kitchen, or beside your bed); the ideal Christmas present. So much more than a mere cooking tome, it’s a delightfully anecdotal guide to the island and its traditions, its people and its produce.
The eight-member creation team hails in the main from Germany, Cyprus – A Culinary Journey being published simultaneously in German and English. Each an expert in their chosen fields, and all holding a deep passion for the island of Cyprus, the dynamic group has spent the best part of three years in research, collation of information and publishing. And the final result is “a book that records the authentic hospitality and warmth of Cyprus. In texts and photographs that present the unique products and delicacies of the island, bringing a smile to the faces of local people and visitors alike – and making their mouths water at the same time. A travel cookbook in other words.”
But what a travel cookbook it is! Divided into six sections covering the main regions of Cyprus, each page of stunning portraits captured by Anja Jahn and mouth-watering dishes photographed by Markus Bassler is complemented by the literary flourish of author Rita Henss and the design talents of Oliver Hick-Schulz. An entire section is dedicated to wine districts, courtesy of sommelier Astrid Zieglmeier, while divine recipes created by top chef Franz Keller accompany those of local cuisine expert Marilena Joannides. And the whole has been edited by Marianne Salentin-Träger, whose passion for the island shines through in her every word.
“I had the vision from the first moment of how the book would be,” says Marianne, the picture of elegance as she sits beside me at her ginghamed kitchen table. I’ve been invited to her home to speak about the process of creation and, as we converse over excellent coffee, the late summer breeze mingles with the toasty aroma of baklava being prepared.
“It’s a mixture of tradition and modernism, a book that’s timeless,” she continues, “something that will still be relevant ten years from now. I come from a farming background,” she adds, “and food is in my genes – I like to eat in a three-star restaurant. But to me, what is really important is the people. And, though there may possibly be countries that are more beautiful than Cyprus,” she says, frowning slightly as if she can’t believe this is true, “I’ve never been anywhere more friendly. So to me it was necessary that the people of Cyprus love the book; it’s a project for the people, the people of Cyprus.”
As I dip into the glossy pages – pausing occasionally to salivate over the recipes, peruse the absorbing anecdotes or wonder at the stories behind each portrait – I think Marianne may be selling her book short. This isn’t just a pearl for the people of Cyprus, it’s a global gem, destined to grace the kitchen counters of homesick émigrés, the coffee tables of gastronomic tourists and the bulging bookshelves of literary escapists.
From the baker in Letymbou to the butcher in Nicosia, the fisherman in Latchi and the potter of Lemba, the people who perpetuate the traditions and produce of the island are all represented in extensive, heart-warming detail: chairs and cheese, snails and olives, goats and honey to name but a few.
“All the people in the book I know well, personally,” smiles Marilena as she checks the oven. Complementing the indigenous wines featured in the book, come the recipes: 11 by Franz Keller, and 38 main recipes by Marilena herself. “All of the recipes are connected to Cyprus,” she says, “some adapted for modern tastes such as the kaikanata (oven omelette) that requires less time to make, and doesn’t need to be fried. And also the traditional Magiritsa with trachanas, which has been modified for vegans.
“I’ve been going around Cyprus for years, discovering what life was like in the old days, what they used to cook.” An invaluable host to the German team, and a major contributor to all aspects of the book, Marilena is warmth personified. “Part of what I do is bring the scents and flavour, the hidden cultures of Cyprus, to light,” she says, mentioning that many of the places to which she introduced the team were off the beaten track.
“Most people know of the rose-growers of Agros, for instance,” she explains. “But we visited Kampos, where production is more traditional in many ways, less commercial. And it was the same with the wine regions: I didn’t want to take my friends to perfectly irrigated and equipped vineyards; I wanted them to see the real Cyprus.” She references what is, arguably, my favourite photo in the book – a portrait of an elderly lady amidst the vines, grinning widely as she hoists a bucket of glistening grapes onto her shoulder – while I savour one of the many traditional desserts I’ve been offered during the course of the interview.
Eventually, sated by the delicacies on offer – both literal and gastronomic – I take my leave. But not before wishing my host the best of luck. Not, I think as I go home to read the book in full, that they will need it. This is a project that sells itself; a glorious compendium of all that is best about Cyprus: its cooking, its culture and, most of all, its people.
Cyprus – A Culinary Journey
Published in both German and English. The English edition is published by C & C Publishing and is available from Kyriakou Bookshops (Facebook: Kyriakou bookshops or call 25 828 078). The German edition is published by Callwey and will shortly be available from Amazon. Both editions are priced at €39.95. For more information, visit http://www.feel-cyprus.com or email [email protected]