This is the first of a couple posts about a holiday in Cyprus. We’ll spare you the trite landscapes and, even worse, the sight of us in swimming suites, but you’ve got to look at the food!
No, the above beauty (his name is Spyros) is not on the menu. We met him in…a fish taverna.
Who’d have said it’s so bloody hard for the tourist to find good fish in Cyprus, despite the thousand fish tavernas that adorn the coast? We mean really good fish, interesting, seriously fresh and unfarmed; something that makes you remember you’re in a small island surrounded by warm waters and a bewildering variety of enticing marine offerings.
But instead you can consider yourselves lucky if you land a fresh but banal farmed sea bass or bream.
We’re not claiming that’s the only worthwhile place, but after several disappointments Andreas Ladas simple, charming fish taverna, set on the stretch of the coastal road between the taverna-littered fishing village of Zygi (in our opinion, AVOID) and Larnaca, became for us the venue where we we found what we were looking for (do NOT confuse this one with the one by the same name in Limassol). There we found the freshest snappers, mullets, barracudas (pike-like in appearance, mightily tasty), and their numerous cousins, all described to to us by the charismatic Andreas in person. It was our University of Fish for a week.
We stumbled on it by chance, wondering in, one hot mid-morning, and finding Spyros the pelican as the only occupant of the premises. As he was in a cage, we immediately thought the owner must be a mean animal mistreater and that we’d find the poor animal on the menu in the evening.
But no, Spyros may in fact be one of the luckiest pelicans in the world: retrieved on the beach injured and unable to fly, he found a comfortable home in the taverna, normally kept free to fly on the rare occasions when he feels like it, well nourished with tons of fish (reassuring the customer that the fish that is no longer superfresh still has a good use), and able to interact with customers. He’s in fact quite a primadonna, showing an interesting range of expressions.
Of the various dinners we had at Ladas taverna, we took pictures of one where we chose to have a grilled snapper, preceded by the usual mix of salads and dips – the basic version of an amuse bouche…
We say ‘usual’, but in fact the quality of the humous, the taramosalata, and the chips was distinctly above average.
As soon as you taste the chips you realise that – rather unusually in our taverna experience – they are ‘real’, not frozen, hand-cut and cooked in good oil. The humous tastes mostly of good tahini and not of the standard bland concoction, and true is also the flavour of the taramosalata. And the zingy beetroots are a pleasure.
Before the main course, we always had squid or cattlefish, very fresh, grilled to perfection, and enhanced by herbs and good olive oil, those basic yet thrilling flavour combinations that have survived centuries of Mediterranean civilisation…
And here’s the big event of the evening
Intensely delicious as only very fresh and properly cooked fish can be, this snapper was in no way inferior in texture and delicacy of taste to ‘nobler’ types such as bass and bream. This is an experience that it would be impossible to replicate where we live, and thus it alone was worth the trip. It reminded us of Barbara in Sardinia, although here it is a far more rustic setting.
You’ll find Ladas taverna on the coastal Road between Limassol and Larnaca, near Maroni village. Fresh wild fish was 45 euros per kilo, squid and cattlefish 35 per kilo, the salad and dips10 all inclusive, and the nice, refreshing and perfumed white Cypriot wines are available at very reasonable markups. This means that you can have one the best simple fish meals of your life, with a good wine, for less than 40 euros per head!
When you enter you can choose the exact fish you want from the display, an option that in our opinion is better than going for the standard fish meze – even here you need to exercise some judgement when selecting the fish… Even better, make friends with Andreas, and he will guide you well! Perhaps he will also tell you the story of why there is a taverna by the same name in Limassol, in the same spot where his father used to have his, and which you should avoid…