It’s no secret to anyone that Melbourne has one of the largest Cypriot communities in the world, so it only makes sense that Cypriot food is a highly sought-after cuisine among Melburnians. With such a large community I had often heard of koupes, tashinopites and sheftalies but had yet to taste them, as it’s not every day you encounter a traditional Cypriot restaurant. Cypriot Street Grill is Melbourne’s first mobile pop-up stall that has been operating around Melbourne food festivals, markets and private functions for two years now, providing its patrons with home-cooked, authentic Cypriot food cooked with passion and love.
George and Georgia Papageorgiou are a young Melburnian couple who, after a recent trip to Cyprus, discovered a mutual passion for cooking recipes passed on to them from their grandmothers and saw it as an untapped market and something they both enjoyed doing. Georgia tells me the street food in Cyprus was extraordinary and they were so inspired they just wanted to bring it home and bring it to the streets of Melbourne.
George’s family originates from Varosi and the recipes were all handed down from his 83-year-old grandmother Vasa Mavros, who resides here in Australia. The couple tells me the flavours that are used in their meats are a concoction made up from the recipes taught to them, as well as some additions of their own. George is a qualified chef by trade and has worked with some of Australia’s top chefs prior to venturing out on this new endeavour, so it’s safe to say he can be trusted.
I was lucky enough recently to have an event catered by this power duo, and even though the stigma of having an event catered and not slaving away and cooking everything yourself is still somewhat rampant, I can report that the only complaint I received was from my mother about there being “too much food”. Their menu usually involves: lamb and chicken on the spit, seasoned with the most mouth-watering flavours; pork and lamb sheftalies, which is like a juicy spiral sausage that melts in your mouth; koupes, flavoursome parcels of pork mince encapsulated by a burghul outer shell, accompanied with oven-roasted oregano potatoes as well as various salads upon request. I completely intended to call a favourite but it’s a definite draw between the spit and the koupes, with that subtle hint of cinnamon, that I was tempted into going back for more at the end of the night. Also upon request, desserts can be added to the menu, including tashinopites, a tahini-filled pastry with cinnamon sugar, and thaxtila, lady fingers of almond, cinnamon and sugar, drizzled with a warm sugar syrup.
What is your favourite Cypriot food item?
Sheftalies are my definite favourite among the Papageorgiou family. As a young child I have fond memories of the competition between the women of the family over who made them better, a never- ending competition, as it is still happening to this day.
Are there many differences between Cypriot and Greek cuisines?
Yes, but more obvious to a more refined palette. Small things like spice combinations make a difference − some of our dishes have a Middle Eastern twist, where we find the Greek cuisine to be much more simple.
Is there an event that you have been a part of that stands out as the favourite and why?
Lonsdale Street Festival 2016 was one of our biggest and most exciting events. We found it so exhilarating and people were lining up for endless hours with a line over 80 metres all day to get their hands on our food. What a great compliment!
What has been your biggest inspiration on this journey?
My biggest inspiration has been the feedback and support from the Greek/Cypriot community. Greeks and Cypriots are such harsh critics when judging their own dishes. Everybody compares to how they, their mothers or grandmothers cooked it, but we have been so lucky. I guess we can attribute this to the fact that we are going off a home cook’s recipe and it tastes hearty and real with lots of love.
What has been the most challenging and the most rewarding part of this new venture?
For us, to this date, I would say it has been estimating the quantity of food when catering events. We are always nervous about making too much and it’s ingrained in us to have more than enough but also so very rewarding when we sell out.
What is it like working with family?
Working with a partner in business is always hard, whether it be your wife or a stranger, but our strong work ethic gets us through the hard times and at the end of the day we each have our defined roles which helps us keep each other in check.
Can you tell me any long-term goals you have set?
Our long-term goal is to expand. We would love to get some permanent locations with a more extensive menu happening. We are constantly working on recipes we can add to our menu and currently it’s something sweet.
If you are now craving some Cypriot street food you can find the Cypriot Street Grill at the Lonsdale Street Festival on February 25-26 and following that, at the Mordialloc Food and Wine Festival on March 4-5.
Their calendar is filling up fast for 2017, so to make a booking, email [email protected] or follow them on Facebook facebook.com/pg/CYPRIOTSTREETGRILL