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Cyprus Internet Directory [ Restaurant Review by Matthew Stowell ]

Restaurant Review by Matthew Stowell

Traditional Cypriot hospitality at its best

The Sama, Spilia

To experience the Cypriot village taverna of 50 years ago, take a drive into the Troodos mountains to the quiet village of Spilia, close to the well-known resort of Kakopetria. In a renovated old house in the centre of the village you’ll find The Sama (a wooden donkey saddle) run by the Eliadou family. The daughter of the family, Maria Elisabeth, is the diminutive dynamo in charge, while the cooking is performed by mama, who knows how to turn out tantalising traditional cuisine.

As you near the restaurant - and by all means, do not approach by way of Saranti or Lagoudera unless you’re driving an all-terrain safari jeep - you’ll see a few caf? tables outside and might mistake it for one of those mountain kafenions frequented by retired shepherds still wearing the wide trousers and long black boots of their professions. Inside, however, there are a few tables on ground level and many more in the cozy stone-walled cava below. I recommend booking a table in this cellar, which has a unique comforting atmosphere conducive to good cheer and the relaxed enjoyment of fine food and company. The upstairs dining room is still lovely - after all, it’s the food that’s tantamount - but you’re not surrounded by the naturally charming intimacy of stone.

The decorations are all antiques from the area and the food is prepared old-style in ceramic crocks, pots and clay ovens. Even the coffee is brewed over a traditional sand stove and all the plates, saucers, water jugs, bowls, even wine cups are handmade by a Cypriot artisan. Ditto the healthy whole-grain bread, which is some of the tastiest to be found in Cyprus. The wine is local as well and delicious, but I advise you to go easy on it. Perhaps it’s the effect of the thinner mountain air but the fruit of the vine here seems to have a more potent kick to it.

In the tradition of the old taverna, there is no set menu from which to choose. Maria and her mother decide what to cook based on what is available and fresh locally, and that’s what everyone eats that day. You simply settle at your table and food begins to appear at a relaxed, even pace. There is always salad to start, of course, and the usual array of taramas, humous, tsadziki, tahini and more. It’s a bit like ordering meze, which I think we would all admit is always too much food and sometimes a threat to the capacity of internal organs. The number of dishes that appear at The Sama is just right. On my last visit the appetizers were followed by fritters of zucchini and potato, light and wonderfully palatable; heavenly broiled haloumi, produced by a local farmer; afelia, choice nuggets of pork that are first saut?ed, then poached in a reduction of red wine and coriander; chicken and onion casserole still simmering in its own clay pot; mousaka, airy but satisfying; bell peppers stuffed with rice, vegetables and a secret combination of native spices; and slow-cooked kleftiko, from a clay oven. During other seasons the menu can vary greatly; in winter, for example, there are more soups and bean dishes.

Hospitality has always been one of the noblest, most endearing traits of the natives of Cyprus and, excepting for a few tourist traps in the cities, this tradition endures. I am continually surprised by a generosity towards strangers that would never happen in the ostensibly more ‘sophisticated’ parts of the world. The hospitality at The Sama seems even more special. It doesn’t take long - five minutes? - before you’re starting to feel like one of the family. The first time I visited, without booking ahead, I had come in from the east on a dirt and gravel donkey path that had seen many a recent rock slide. As a result, I arrived just as staff were sitting down for their communal end-of-the-day meal. Was I told, “Sorry, we’re closed”? No, I was offered a carafe of wine, then some bread, cheese, hiromeri ham and olives. Then a few minutes later I was told, as portions of hot pastichio and souvla were set out in front of me, “Mama says you have to eat”. I ate well and drank excellent wine for an hour. And do you think when I went to pay they accepted any money? Not on your life.

SPECIALTY: Traditional Cypriot, no menu
WHERE: Spilia Village (near Kakopetria), Troodos Mountains, Nicosia
CONTACT 22 316473 or 99 571112
PRICE: about €45 for two, with wine
BOOKING: always necessary

(Source: Cyprus Mail)

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