The Cypriot ‘şeftali’ debate

The Cypriot ‘şeftali’ debate

Those who are not so familiar with the Cypriot culture might not appreciate it, but the “Şeftali” kebab has a peculiar place in the culture of the island.

The Greek Cypriot version of it is “sheftalya,” and, according to one claim, it evolved into Turkish to become “Şeftali” or “Peach.” There are various city legends on how the name of the kebab evolved. According to one, it was first cooked by a Chef Ali and in time from “Chef Ali’s kebab” it became the Şeftali kebab.

In any way, together with “Molohiya” or the Mulukhiyah (Jew’s mallow) imported from Egypt but cooked differently, Golokas (Colocasia), a residue of the British colonial rule, salad with black eyed peas, zucchini, green onion and coriander, meatballs with potatoes, pickled celery and halloumi, the Şeftali kebab constitutes the backbone of the Turkish Cypriot culinary culture. It is indeed irrelevant how the name evolved.

Until very recently, whenever I dropped by Cyprus I would always end up at the “Saraba” or the “Museum Lovers Association” restaurant in the backyard of the Selimiye (St. Sophia) Mosque in downtown Nicosia. Often, I would invite my Greek Cypriot colleagues for lunch, as it was just about 250 meters away from the Ledra crossing point. Yet, with the ID card getting old, advises of the doctors to stay away from high-cholesterol food I started skipping the kebab part lately and would have a filling portion of salad with black eyed peas, boiled zucchini, fresh green onion and coriander with generous Cyprus lemon and delicious olive oil… And, of course, some pickled celery. Unfortunately, most people that left youth years way back must be in the same situation.

Can’t someone be a Turkish or Greek Cypriot if he does not eat Şeftali or Sheftalya? Nonsense. Yet, some Turkish Cypriots must have been very much bored being confined to a lockdown by the coronavirus. There is a debate continuing on in North Cyprus how and why the Şeftali must be “salvaged.” Some hoteliers, tourism agents and shop owners lament, for obvious reasons, and object to such a discussion in society stressing their problems were not so much passionately discussed by the society. They are indeed right. But, to be honest, even if it might pose a risk for cholesterol obsessive segments, coupled with a salad with black eyed peas and boiled zucchini, a bit of deep fried Cyprus potatoes and a slice of fresh sourdough brown village bread, if prepared and cooked well, Şeftali can just be an explosion of taste.

There are various ways of preparing it, of course. The one I learned from my late mom can be summarized as kneading so well the minced meat, cutting the parsley, onion and desired spices to incorporate them well. My mom was pitting small boiled potatoes and some sauced tomatoes, to make the meatballs soft. Meatballs shaped like thick fingers are than wrapped in thin caul fat of lamb, producing small sausage-like meatballs. How it is cooked is important as well. It deserves to be cooked in two stages on low-heat barbeque. In the first cooking, the outer layer of fat is melted away, penetrating trough the meatball and in the second cooking, again law heat, the fat is reduced to a thin golden-brown layer of bark. With a crispy outer fat and a soft and juicy inside, anyone can imagine the resulting taste.

It must be normal for any society to be fed up being confined to home, frustrated with corona talk all the time, to return and search for some other subjects for soul healing. Was it not why we have all become bakers nowadays?

Obviously, the problems of the hoteliers, tourism agents, show owners – and the politicians trying to find finances for all sectors and segments of the society demanding support – are all important. But, if opening up to a “new normal” without taking into consideration a probable second or even third wave of pandemic, the end cost might be very painful. Thus, it is far better to talk about bakery or how to cook a certain kebab…

It is at least far safer for this writer to discuss why the Dialog TV was removed from the Turkish satellite.

Turkish Cyprus, Greek Cyprus,