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Article by Zoe Christodoulides
YUMMY CYPRUS - SUNDAY MAIL FEATURE
For two women who believe that the kitchen is the heart of the home, new workshops will spread their love of Cyprus cuisine. ZOE CHRISTODOULIDES gets a taste of what’s in store.

It was the usual drive home after a long day at work and yet another visit to a nearby takeaway joint that got me thinking. If we really are what we eat, then something certainly can’t be right about our modern habits. Gone are the days when families gathered together to enjoy home cooked delights around the dinner table, as food now becomes more of a fuel stop rather than a healthy bonding experience.

Quite a different picture awaits me as I enter the house of Rena Aristotelous, who busies herself with her close friend Marina Savvides, sorting through a colourful heap of organic vegetables. A weekday lunchtime it may be, but the dynamic duo in their 60s are intent on sticking to their roots. And that means good, home cooked food around the dinner table come rain or shine, just like the good old days.

Having recently launched their own Yummy Cyprus cookery workshops, they greet me with a smile and a host of anecdotes about the flavours, smells and history of the food in the country we live in. “You should gather, eat, talk, share and be happy, says Marina as she looks over to smile at her childhood friend. “Oh yes,” says Rena in agreement. “Sitting down around the table enjoying healthy meals with the family is the best thing you can do.”

Passionate about protecting traditions, they are keen on going back to the basics. And that means good food that embraces all the founding principles of what the true Mediterranean diet is all about. “Chefs these days tend to do new twists on traditional foods but somehow that moves away from the essence of what the local diet is all about,” says Rena. “People never used to eat meat more than once a week, or once a month even,” interjects Marina. “We should pay attention to pulses and vegetables, which are of primary importance.”

But can a hectic lifestyle and good home cooked food go together hand in hand? The women are adamant that one does not lead to a sacrifice of the other. “Greek and Cypriot cuisine has some of the simplest of dishes and it can be low cost too,” says Marina. With this, both cooks recite a whole list of mouth-watering meals that won’t burn a hole in anyone’s pocket and will hardly take more than half an hour to prepare from start to finish.

Animated banter suddenly turns to tasty lentil recipes, making the most of seasonal greens, and how to enjoy the most delicious oven baked dishes with minimum effort. Giving eager food afi cionados the chance to reap all the secrets they have up their sleeves, their cooking workshops involve passing on the knowledge that was handed down to the two of them by their grandparents. But more than that, they’ll also be bringing in locals from across the island to demonstrate a wide range of dying traditions; from one lady who produces halloumi from fresh sheep and goats’ milk delivered to her by a shepherd, to a man who has been praised for his own rose water made from fragrant petals using only traditional means. It’s sights like these that have become a real rarity in the contemporary world.

Their emphasis on tradition is hardly surprising given that working up wonders in the kitchen seems to be in their blood. Rena’s fi rst cooking adventure came at the age of 12 when she recalls surprising her parents with beans and vegetables in tomato sauce while still clearly remembering how proud her parents were of her. One of Marina’s greatest pleasures in life has been promulgating the glories of her country’s food in any foreign land she found herself. Jotting down recipes and traditions on just about any and every piece of paper, they’ve now taken pride of place in her grandfather’s old trunk which over the past 100 years has made its way from his homeland of Mykonos to her family home.

But how do they both feel to be taking on a new venture in their 60s? “Oh it’s brilliant, it makes me feel like I’m 27 going on 28,” says Marina with a chuckle. Rena seems to be happy that she is finally going to be following er dream. “You could lock me in a kitchen from morning to night and I wouldn’t complain.” Perhaps most notable is how much they want to share their knowledge and their food with other people as the whole idea takes on almost spiritual connotations.
Our love for food and sharing it with others goes together, it’s very symbolic,” says Marina. Rena nods in firm agreement. “Maybe it’s all the years we’ve spent cooking for our children and grandchildren.”

And with that,the charismatic duo begin to meticulously lay the kitchen table as they dish out delicious briami and oven baked fi sh. The room fills with the pungent aroma of fresh cooking, punctuated by bouts of laughter and a distinct feel of comforting warmth. Marina catches her breath and grins from ear to ear. “Ah, isn’t this what it should really be all about?”

Yummy Cyprus Hands on cookery workshops focusing on traditional recipes infused with the culture and history of Cyprus. Group and private cookery workshops geared to individual needs in a friendly and warm atmosphere.Morning, afternoon, evening and weekend workshops available as well as demonstrations at professional events. For inquiries and reservations: email: info@yummycyprus.com or tel: 99-494399, 99-456816. Visit www.yummycyprus.com for regular updates and various informative
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