When Cyprus journalist Anna Chris contacted Michael Athanatos, owner of food truck business Taste of Cyprus in Melbourne, to see if he wanted to be on Cyprus television, he was mystified but he was also pleasantly surprised.

“The journalist told me that she had read good reviews about my food on social media and wanted to know more. I was surprised how they found out about me all the way in Cyprus,”Mr Athanatos told Neos Kosmos. The programme in which he appeared was the popular lifestyle show Irthe kai Ethese (“They came and anchored”) on Cyprus television channel Sigma.

You may remember last year when Neos Kosmos reported that Mr Athanatos gave away souvlakia to people in need during the COVID lockdown. He also gave away shopping bags filled with cans of food and other necessaries. That particular story also made the news in a Cyprus newspaper.

“The presenters (Andrea Dimitropoulos and Giota Damianou) wanted to know how the business started, what was the idea behind it and how the pandemic affected us,” he said.

Because of the pandemic, he shut down his business for six months and lost his usual space on Mt Alexander Road.

“I started operating again from my house in front of the driveway and then moved to my current spot next to FoodWorks and the Hillside Recreation Reserve. I have got three tables outside the food truck when the weather is good or people can walk across to the reserve to eat their food. ”

Four years before he had been running a successful LED lighting business until the state government started giving away the lights and he could no longer compete with large businesses.

“Even as a kid, growing up in Cyprus, I had always wanted to be a chef. I love to cook and experiment with food. So I basically went into doing what I loved to do as a kid and started the business.

That love of food has meant that he ensures that everything that he sells over the counter is fresh and well-sourced and prepared by himself.

For example, he makes sure that the ingredients that go into his souvlakia are evenly distributed.

“Every mouthful, from beginning to end, will have the same ingredients so that the meat is not bunched at the top with just vegetables remaining by the end of the souvlaki,”

Instead of ice lettuce he will use rocket, the chicken is prepared in a lemon marinade of his own making as is the tzatziki and tahini.

His halloumi chips are popular and he has identified the right saganaki cheese that will be firm for the new saganaki chips dish he plans to introduce. Like the halloumi, the cheese will be dipped in batter, wrapped in breadcrumbs and deepfried to go with the chips.

“I am always trying different things. I have tried five different cheeses and this Greek saganaki is firm and just right for this new dish.” Asked whether he prefers the saganaki to the halloumi, he chuckles and says diplomatically: “I am from Cyprus”.

Part of the menu also includes Koupes, a Cypriot delicacy which has a filling of minced meat, herbs and spices wrapped in a shell of cracked wheat and flour that is deep fried. He also includes the traditional semolina cake in his sweets’ menu as a homage to his Cypriot roots.

Mr Athanatos was born in Melbourne but he went with his grandmother to Limasol in Cyprus when he was two, in 1972, and returned to Melbourne in 1989 after finishing high school.

His wife, Maria, and son sometimes help at the food truck. He had hoped to open his own restaurant when COVID struck but he says he will see if he can follow that dream next year.

“There are thousands of food trucks out there, I was stunned but also very proud that Cyprus television chose me,” he told Neos Kosmos.

It should be noted that in March Taste of Cyprus was voted among the Top 10 Food Trucks in Victoria by Herald Sun readers who also said Mr Athanatos produced the best souvlaki in Melbourne.

The Taste of Cyprus truck in its full glory. Photo: Supplied
Michael Athanatos’ Saganaki souvlaki. Photo: Supplied
Koupes, a traditional Cyprus delicacy. Photo: Supplied
The popular Halloumi Chips. Photo: Supplied