A Taste of Famagusta

Working towards promoting development while improving the climate of reconciliation in the wider Famagusta region, the Renewal Project has singled out the culinary aspect of the region in recognition of the prominent role food takes in shaping our social interactions.

Currently releasing four short video-clips through its online platform, Renewal’s ‘Taste of Famagusta’ project reveals a story about Famagusta and Deryneia’s culinary journey told through local recipes, food habits and tastes of the area, a journey which has enticed concrete know-how about the identity of people living in the area, but also instigated a shift in our perception of the two ‘estranged’ communities.

On screen, you will encounter the food adventures of four characters from the local Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities: two young Cypriots, and two ‘elders’ who are involved in a cooking challenge, where elders present two dishes to the young contestants, who in turn will have to identify the dishes, find the recipes and eventually prepare the dishes themselves.

Yet the underlying connotations of the project very much lie in the identity of the peoples and cultural traditions found in the area.

“‘A Taste of Famagusta’ deals with food and identity. Food here, however, serves as a pretext, as a tool with which to investigate a place, its inhabitants and their identity,” verifies Lina Protopapa member of the Renewal project and coordinator of ‘A Taste of Famagusta’.

“Famagusta and its surrounding areas have a rich culinary tradition. The city is surrounded in the south by a group of villages, kokkinochoria (‘red villages’), due to their rich, fertile red soil and Karpasia to the east, that have always given an excellent agricultural production,” explains Protopapa.

To this end, the project has an interesting genealogy.

“A few years back, I had the chance to work on ‘Rome Eats Rome: Four Generations of Roman Food Stories’, a project conceived by American artist, Fritz Haeg and publisher Lorenzo Micheli Gigotti. ‘Rome Eats Rome’ illuminated all the ways in which people organise their lives around the table and gave an understanding of people’s relationship to food that is representative of the whole of the Mediterranean. “What we have here is a culture that is intensely convivial and places food at the centre of the human experience.

“In Cyprus, too, and in the region of Famagusta in particular, food is a very accurate mirror of culture and identity and, like in Rome, here, too, things are changing very fast… it seemed like a good moment to document this shift,” reveals Protopapa.
“But what was even more exciting was also combining the two communities of Famagusta. Together with the Renewal team we wanted to find a way to address these same issues, and we chose to do it through video,” she adds. Produced by Crewhouse Media, the outcome of the video clips is ‘decidedly playful’.

“They introduced this ‘challenge’ format and basically made the entire project fit for video,” says Protopapa, not neglecting the add-on publication which will include interviews, recipes and photographs of the research at hand.

The Renewal Project
Working under the umbrella of the Renewal Project, ‘Taste of Famagusta’ comes in to complement the aims and vision of the initiative.

“Renewal aims to promote development while improving the climate of reconciliation in the wider Famagusta region. In Famagusta, you will often hear complaints about how the place has been going increasingly backwards ever since the division was established.

“There is a sense that the ‘backwardness’ the region is falling victim to is all-encompassing, it goes from unemployment, to limitations in business opportunities, to the perceived absence of a cultural life,” explains Protopapa. “Renewal has tried to tackle the most critical issues of this discontent by providing soft infrastructure for businesses, by offering training on youth entrepreneurship, and even going as far as putting down a new, common tourist itinerary for the area,” she adds.

Practically, Renewal also deals with the civil society sector, creating opportunities for people to come together, work together and exploring each other’s identity.
“But returning to ‘A Taste of Famagusta’, another reason why we chose the culinary aspect of the region is the huge role that food takes on in shaping our social interactions. “Food in Cyprus serves as some kind of glue, bringing people together. It also has a ritualistic function; it sort of ‘articulates’ the moments of the day, the week, the year. Special moments are always celebrated around a table. So you could say that in Famagusta – and in Cyprus in general – food is something that gives rhythm to our lives,” justifies Protopapa.

Taste of Famagusta’s driving force
Admittedly, sharing these traditions and calling on viewers to identify with the communities through their culinary journey extends a hand for further understanding and in this case, perhaps a more hopeful climate for reconciliation.

“Decades of division and propaganda have estranged the two communities and even after the opening of checkpoints, access to and from one area to the other is problematic due to distance,” recalls Protopapa.

“But people are ready and enthusiastic to delve into each other’s livelihoods and cultures and this is where Renewal steps in, in collaboration with Crewhouse Media, giving people a taste of Famagusta, literally and metaphorically,” says Protopapa.
“The participants of the project, that is, our four protagonists and, to a certain extent, their families and friends, who were also willy-nilly involved in the project, found themselves increasingly immersed in the culture of their neighbouring community but also dove into their own culture in a more conscious kind of way.

“Food made the people from the two communities come together effortlessly, bringing out a natural curiosity about the differences and ultimately the heart-warming similarities of our neighbours’ culture.

“The first step towards reconciliation is to re-discover each other, starting from the most mundane, everyday elements of our identity. An instance such as eating seems like a great place to begin from,” asserts Protopapa.

Cooking challenge
Apart from placing four contestants at the heart of a cooking challenge, the element of placing two generations opposite each other carries another perspective. Notably, participants include Georgoulla Shopaha, an inhabitant of Frenaros village, a retired housewife and farmer, a devoted mother and grandmother.

The second ‘elder’ participant is Hüseyin Herbsoy, who lives in Famagusta, a retired but ever-active chef, who studied at the Cyprus Hotel Institute in the 1960s.

Standing on the ‘opposite side’ of the challenge is Nurtane Karagil, an inhabitant of the walled city of Famagusta, an artist with a connection to her roots, as she returns from her studies and lives in a building belonging to her family for three generations. By her is Polyvios Christofi, a medical doctor and lover of folklore music, a true world citizen living in Deryneia.

“Identity does not limit itself to categories such as ethnicity, religion, language. It also encompasses age and life opportunities. We didn’t just want to explore the similarities and differences between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, we wanted to also explore the generations, to expose how real the generational gap is and this simple and everyday matter that is food was a very revelatory tool for doing it,” explains Protopapa.

“Without wanting to give out too much, there is one scene that I find absolutely delightful, and also particularly indicative of this: one of the two younger participants needs wine to cook with and, together with her partner, they decide that a good idea is to go to the wine cellar to buy it, where they end up having a serious wine tasting session!

“It’s a small incident that speaks not only about the different experiences and approaches to food for different generations (our 75 and 25 year olds), but also about how our protagonists took this opportunity to create their own updated rituals around age-old recipes,” reveals Protopapa.

“Cyprus is an island that is going through changes at the speed of light; I feel like there is a very big generational gap that comes from the different life experiences the generations have had,” admits Protopapa.

“Putting two generations opposite each other gives us a clear idea of this shifting moment we are at. On one hand, we have our rich culinary traditions that are tied to the land and the products it gives and, on the other, we are in a sort of huge tornado that consists of global influences, multinational food companies, imported products, the new consumerist and fetishist approach to food.

“But in the midst of all of this, we have a sort of counter-movement that proposes a more conscious way of consuming, once again going back to the local, the seasonal and the sustainable. All this is very interesting and it all comes out in the video clips in an effortless way,” she concludes.

To view the four episodes being released throughout the month of November visit http://famagustarenewal.org/

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About Melissa Hekkers

I am freelance journalist and author, who has frequently been featured in mainstream news outlets and other publications in Cyprus. Recently, I've been focusing on developing my writing, promoting my own books and teaching creative writing to children and adults. My most recent publication (2020) - Amir's Blue Elephant- pushes the boundaries of creative non-fiction, and recreates the moments that marked me the most, whilst volunteering in refugee camps in Lesvos, Greece, and during her ongoing involvement with the refugee community in Cyprus. In 2018 I published My Capre Greco Mandala which is the third in a series, an interactive colouring book about the biodiversity of the Cape Greco peninsula in Cyprus. My Akamas Mandala, the second in the series, is a colouring book inspired by the variety of endemic plants found on the Akamas Peninsula. In 2016, I published My Nicosia Mandala, the first of the above series, an innovative, interactive colouring book about the historic fortifications of the old town of Nicosia. I also focuses on silenced communities in Cyprus: I writes about migrants and refugees, both as a reporter and a features writer; I profile them and teach them creative writing skills. In 2007, soon after graduating with a Communications degree, I published my first children’s book in both English and Greek entitled Crocodile, which won the Cyprus State Illustration Award. In 2012, I launched my second children’s book Flying across Red Skies (in English and Greek), using an experimental approach to literature, for which I was nominated for the Cyprus State Literary award. My third, similarly well-received children’s book was Pupa (Greek and English), published in 2014. In between the last two books, I published my first free-verse poetry book entitled Come-forth. In 2019 she was contributing author to the anthology Nicosia Beyond Barriers: Voices from a Divided City, published by Saqi Books, London