You often see tavernas advertising themselves as ‘traditional’, making claims of tapping into the culinary culture of the past and decking themselves out with ‘old’ paraphernalia like village chairs and baskets hanging from the walls. Undeniably though, Zanettos is the real deal: an authentic taverna that has stood the test of time, and has lived to tell the tale.
As you walk in, you’ll be comforted by the knowledge that it’s been tucked away there in that narrow little road in the crumbling heart of Nicosia for decades. Since 1938, it’s been serving more or less the same dishes, with the constant philosophy of keeping it fresh and simple. You are greeted at the door by Panayiotis, whose welcoming smile is offered to regulars and new-comers alike, making absolutely no distinction between big noisy groups and romantic couples, between young and old, or between locals and foreigners.
You’ll be seated promptly, and offered a drink to help you unwind while you soak in the unpretentious atmosphere. As you feel the layers of stress peel away, you’ll notice that some toasted village bread and various little dips have magically appeared on the table. You sip your wine or beer, you dunk your bread in the home-made tahini and you nibble at the olives, feeling your taste-buds coming alive and your appetite growing. There’s no menu to speak of, and the best advice I can offer is that you go when you’re really hungry. Panayiotis will personally make sure you have more than enough food, all guaranteed to be fresh, in season and prepared on the premises, with the exception of the sausages which are made specially for Zanettos at a local butcher’s.
The other night, my friend and I opted to sit inside, leaving the little courtyard in the back to the smokers, and as we chatted and laughed we hardly noticed the grilled halloumi and mushrooms, beetroot smothered in village yoghurt, hot pitta spread with garlic sauce and village salad bursting with fresh, fragrant greens, tomatoes and fetta that we devoured. When the succulent chicken souvlaki and spinach rice arrived, however, we looked at each other and burst out laughing, wondering how on earth we would manage to find space for the main course. Naturally, that didn’t stop us from trying, and we even found that we could squeeze in a bite of creamy mahallepi at the end.
65 Trikoupis Street, Old Nicosia, Tel. ,
By Barbara Panayidou