Carol and I are now on the island of Cyprus for a couple weeks. This week, she is attending an astrophysics workshop involving ULIRGS and other vaguely threatening-sounding cosmic phenomena, while I do important things like blogging and hat buying.

Our first 18 hours or so in Cyprus were spent in the seaside city of Larnaca, a very cosmopolitan place with a beautiful beachfront, lots of upscale shopping, and (serendipitously) hats. Then we took a taxi to Nicosia, in the island’s interior, the site of the astro workshop’s first two days.

In contrast with Larnaca, Nicosia has a distinctly middle eastern vibe, and the restaurant menus reflect the difference — lots of kebabs, falafels, halloumi, etc. Last evening, a few hours after arriving, we asked our hotel’s front desk clerk to recommend a dinner destination.

“Is this your first time in Nicosia?” he asked us.

“Yes.” (Mine, at least.)

“Then, for the full Cyprus experience, you should go to [restaurant name redacted to protect those never proven guilty]. They have a meze there.”


Carol quickly found a place by the specified name on Google Maps, and we set off on foot. Within a few minutes we found ourselves far from the bustle roundabout the hotel, making our way through a dark part of the city that looked like it hadn’t been lived in for a while. Maybe since the last world war. “You think this is a prank they play on first timers here?” I whispered to Carol.

Finally, though, Google’s breadcrumbs led us to signs of life once again, in the form of local men cursing at a televised soccer game outside a tavern; and shortly after that, our destination beckoned warmly at the end of the street. Time for our traditional Cyprus dining experience.

Meze is a Cypriot word of uncertain origin. Its infinitive root, mezen (μεζεν), translates literally as “to eat until your ancestors throw up.”

The meze has a very long and martial history. After the army of Sargon II of Assyria routed the Cypriot forces in 709 BCE, then humiliated them in the consolation game of footy afterward, the island’s natives suffered decades of great oppression until 663. In that year, a brilliant local administrator and poet, Stasinus of Cyprus, invited the general of the Assyrian garrison and all his lieutenants to a great feast, where he literally fed them to death. Deprived of their leadership, the occupying troops, led by a solitary captain who had barely survived that fateful night by passing on the semolina dessert, fled the island in their boats and drifted ashore weeks later on the beaches of wherever the feck Assyria was. When asked what had happened to his fellow officers, the traumatized captain could only stare into space and mutter, “The sausages! The sausages!”

Thus was the meze born.

Entering our restaurant (which inexplicably featured, in the foyer, a dentist’s chair), we were greeted by a waiter and led into the indoor/outdoor dining area. He explained to us that there was only a single menu choice (the meze), which consisted of twenty-two dishes. Was that all right?

I looked at Carol. “Sounds like an awful lot of food.”

“Oh, it’s all right,” the fellow assured us, smiling. “The dishes are very small. Where would you like to sit?”

Being the sort of person who never wants to take up more seats than necessary, I pointed to a two-top near the back.

“Oh no, take a bigger table,” said the waiter, waving to a four-top. When I began to demur, he looked me in the eye. “Truly.”

We sat and selected beers off the innocent-looking drink menu. Shortly I was staring at enough beer to float a dinghy — my first clue that I was not in Kansas anymore.

Then, in rapid succession, the dishes began to arrive.

The first course was a bowl of Greek salad about the size of the “bottomless salad” at Olive Garden — accompanied by slices of loaf bread and pita, bowls of pickled beets, yogurt, hummus (lemony and very liquid), something semi-viscous and heavily garlicked, and a few other dishes. Carol and I had just tucked into that pretty well when the real food started arriving. Sausages. Pork kabobs with potatoes. Chicken kabobs with potatoes. More sausages. Beef liver slices. Some weird, red, mushy stuff that tasted red and mushy (and weird). French fries, because clearly we needed yet more potatoes. Snails. Some orange grainy stuff that kind of looked like quinoa but wasn’t. And on. And on.

The food serving rapidly went from hospitable to ample to assaultive. Dishes began to arrive in such rapid succession that the tabletop would no longer hold them, and we started piling things atop one another. And still they came.

It was diabolical. We were full long before the food stopped arriving. After a while, the woman bringing the dishes began to take on the aspect of a wicked crone, trying to plump us for slaughter like children in a German fairy tale.

With the table still at least two thirds full of food, we defiantly stopped eating — and then the test of wills began. For probably an hour or so, it was obvious that, gastronomically speaking, it was all quiet on our western front; but the servers seemed determine to out-wait us. Finally we stacked more of the untouched dishes into piles and pushed our plates as far to one side as the space would allow. Carol grabbed a passing waiter. “I’m sorry,” she said politely, “but I’m afraid we just can’t eat anymore.”

“Certainly,” he nodded gravely. “I’ll take all these away.

“Then I bring you the desserts.”

As we were consuming a few milligrams of dessert out of politeness (and a sincere desire to rinse the taste of Cypriot snail from our palettes), a young man with an obvious American accent entered the dining room.

“That many dishes?” I overheard him ask. “That sounds like too much food.”

The waiter smiled at him. “Oh, don’t worry. The dishes are very small.”

The young man sat at the two-top a few feet away from ours. I waited for him to look in my direction, then silently mouthed a single word:


Published by Ronald Crittenden

American SciFi writer in France. Amateur historian of art and war. Tea not coffee, s'il vous plait, and don't forget to say hi to your dog for me.

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