Ivy Liacopoulou is the culinary expert for Cypriot cuisine on 196 flavors.
Ivy was born in Limassol, Cyprus, a small island in the Eastern Mediterranean, of Greek culture. When she was a child, her family immigrated to London and she spent part of her childhood there. The rest of her youth she spent in Cyprus until she met and fell in love with a Greek army officer. Soon after they got married, they moved to Greece in 1981 and since then they have been living in Greece. They have three adult children.
Ivy worked in the Airline industry and had a bookstore for several years too. She also worked in a family restaurant as an assistant chef.
Ivy’s creativeness and passion for cooking are depicted in her blog, Kopiaste, “to Greek Hospitality”. Ivy is inviting you in her kitchen (that is what kopiaste is all about), to share all her small secrets, behind hundreds of home-style recipes that have been part of her family’s heritage for many years.
In 2010, Ivy published her first cookbook Mint, Cinnamon & Blossom Water, Flavours of Cyprus, Kopiaste. Her second cookbook, More Than A Greek Salad, was published in 2013.
In 2012, Ivy and her husband moved to Assini, a village in Peloponnese, near Nafplion, where she now teaches cooking.
Can you tell us more about yourself?
Hi, I am Ivy Liacopoulou, the author and cook behind Kopiaste blog. I was born in Limassol, Cyprus, a small island in the Eastern Mediterranean, but have lived in Greece most of my life. I am the youngest of six children and my mother gave birth to me when she was 43 years old. When I was born, my eldest sister was 17. When I was a child, my family immigrated to London and I spent part of my childhood there. However, the climate contributed to the deterioration of my mother’s health, who suffered from rheumatisms, so following the doctor’s advice, we had to return back to sunny Cyprus, where the climate is warm. By the time we returned, my elder siblings had already got married and had their own families. As I was the only child living with my parents, I had to help my mother out, whenever she needed help. Food has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My passion for cooking started by watching my mother cook and helping her in the kitchen, due to her health. By the time I got married, I knew how to cook most of the traditional Cypriot dishes but not all of them.
Tell us more about your knowledge and experience when it comes to Cypriot cuisine.
I have been a food blogger since 2007. When I started blogging, I challenged myself to learn more Cypriot recipes, so that my children may learn more about their roots. My mother passed away many years before I started blogging so in order to learn many of the difficult Cypriot recipes, I asked help from my sisters. My eldest sister owned a restaurant for many years and one of her sons is now the owner of three restaurants in Limassol. Although she retired many years ago, she still helps her son in one of his restaurants, always supervising the preparation of the traditional dishes. Soon after the economic crisis in Greece, we moved shortly back to Cyprus, where I worked in one of my nephew’s restaurants as an assistant chef.
What makes Cypriot cuisine unique? What differentiates it from other European cuisines?
Cypriot cuisine is shaped by the island’s Mediterranean climate, geography, and history. The majority of its recipes are based on Greek cuisine and the Mediterranean Diet, which is one of the healthiest in the world, using fresh, wholesome ingredients.
Cypriots are Orthodox by religion and almost half of the year is a fasting period. Our Lenten recipes (Nistisima), except for the seafood and honey, are all vegan and we also have a lot of vegetarian recipes.
Cyprus’ strategic location in the Eastern Mediterranean, situated at the crossroads of three continents, had brought to the island too many conquerors and thus its cuisine has evolved into an amalgamation of diverse tastes and textures. We see influences from the Ottomans and its neighboring Middle Eastern countries but there are also remnants of French, Italian, and Anglo-Saxon influences stemming from the island’s occupation by the French Lusignans, the Venetians, the Ottomans and the British.
What is your favorite Cypriot recipe or the most unusual dish of the country?
It is very difficult to choose just one. I love all Cypriot dishes, such as makaronia tou fournou, a pasta layered dish with minced meat in the middle topped with Béchamel sauce, moussaka composed of layered eggplants, zucchini and potatoes with a meat sauce between the layers also topped with Béchamel, ofton kleftiko, souvla, afelia, koupepia, kolokassi, stifado, and of course, the Cypriot mezedes which are amazing and can be a meal by themselves. However, whenever I visit the island I know that the first thing I want to eat are sheftalia. Sheftalia, which are like crépinettes, are oval-shaped minced meat with spices, which are wrapped in caul fat. Caul fat may seem like an unusual ingredient to use but when the crepinette is cooked over charcoal, it melts adding lots of flavour to the minced meat.
What other cuisines do you like or influence your cuisine?
Mostly Italian but I also love fusion cuisine as well.
Which place would you recommend to visit in Cyprus?
As many of you may know, Cyprus is the only country in Europe which is divided, after the Turkish occupation, in 1974. I had the pleasure to visit Famagusta in 1973, just shortly before it was occupied and it was a cosmopolitan town. Now, it’s a ghost town. However, in the free side of the island, Limassol, my hometown, which is the second largest town after the capital, Nicosia, is admitted by everyone to be the most beautiful town of the island. It is situated on the southern coasts of the island and a hub between Nicosia, which is to the north-east of Limassol or to the north of Larnaca. Larnaca is to the east, Paphos to the west and the Troodos mountain range to the north.
Limassol is also considered the principal hub for international business operations. It has alluring beaches, a beautiful marina with luxurious villas surrounding it, an amazing walking and bicycle path on the seafront, starting from the medieval castle of Limassol and ending at ancient Amathus (around 10 km). It is considered the town of joy and happiness as it hosts the wine festival, early in September, Limassol being the district where all the vines are cultivated. One of its most famous wines is Commandaria, which has been produced non-stop from antiquity till today and was mentioned by Homer.
Another event hosted in Limassol, during February/March, is the carnival. Many other cultural events take place year round. Within half an hour’s to forty minutes drive, you can visit any of the above mentioned towns. On your way to Paphos you can find Kolossi castle and Kourion. On your way to Larnaca or Nicosia, do not miss the Neolithic settlement of Chirokoitia and on your way to Troodos mountains there are hundreds of beautiful villages to visit, the most popular of which are Lophou, Omodos and Platres.
What Cypriot chef is a reference for you?
Being away from Cyprus for 34 years, I have lost touch with Cypriot television, which is not broadcasting in Nafplion, nor can I find Cypriot magazines or newspapers to learn about the local “celebrity” chefs. There is a Cypriot Chef doing career in Greece which I have seen on Greek television, named Christophoros Beskias, whose work I admire. However, my mentor used to be my mother and later on I learned a lot about Cypriot cuisine from my eldest sister Zoe, who has been in the food industry for over thirty years.
What are the main difficulties in Cypriot cuisine?
Cypriot cuisine has many simple dishes, which use few ingredients but as simple as they may seem, they are delicious because of the freshest and most delicious raw ingredients used. However, there are also many complicated recipes which are not those one can find in restaurants. Many of these recipes, such as bombari (stuffed intestine with minced meat), pittes (pies), flaounes (Easter cheese bread), with homemade phyllo, koupes (elongated bulgur wheat casings filled with minced meat), moungra (pickled cauliflower), arkatena (bread made with chickpea yeast), shiamishi (cream filled, fried phyllo), loukoumia tou gamou (wedding cakes), require a lot of skills to make. One of the main difficulties to make them abroad is also finding the authentic ingredients. They can always be made with substitutes but do not taste the same.
What would you suggest if you had to prepare a complete Cypriot menu (starter, main course, dessert)?
Cyprus is famous for its meze dishes, so for starters I would start with taramosalata, tzatziki, tashi, agrelia me avga and halloumi saganaki, accompanied by grilled Cypriot pita bread. For a main course I would suggest ttavas (a lamb dish with cumin), served with one of its famous red wines, a horiatiki salata (similar to Greek salad) and for dessert I would suggest loukoumades, which is a batter of yeast dough, which are fried, shaped into round balls and drenched in syrup, served with ice cream.