SPOTLIGHT: Déjà Vu interviews ... Cyprus Kitchen
Ask any Londoner about their average understanding of Cypriot cuisine and they’ll probably mention halloumi, Greek food or just ‘fess up to not really knowing anything about the cuisine at all. That’s exactly what Nick and his business, Cyprus Kitchen want to change.
So what's the story behind Cyprus Kitchen?
Having been born in Cyprus, having a Cypriot father and an Armenian-Cypriot step-father, Nick has always been around Mediterranean influences. It’s this passion for his culture that drove him into serving up delicious Eastern Mediterranean food to hungry Londoners. In Cypriot culture, as Nick describes, it’s all happening around the table. Meal times are not a chance to be sat around the TV but rather, it’s usually where you’ll sit around for hours catching up, laughing, having fun and generally, coming together as a family. This is precisely the reason that Nick went onto showcase his love of his culture and its food by starting a supper club in his small apartment in Walthamstow. Only being able to seat 12 people in the space was certainly cosy but it showed that there was a demand for fresh, homemade Cypriot food so lo and behold, Cyprus Kitchen was born.
He didn’t reach the street food step easily and had to actually write down a list of reasons why he hadn’t gone into it yet. He had never done any form of catering at all, didn’t really have any knowledge of access points or how to properly turn on a grill but he took the plunge and went onto balance his full-time job with trading on Saturdays at Walthamstow village market (now E17 Market). He was then approached to trade on Sundays at the East Village Market in Stratford and realised this was something he enjoyed and could do regularly. He describes that as the point he knew he had to take a plunge and ask himself if he could really go into street food.
Cyprus Kitchen was not exactly one of Nick’s main passions or life goals, he just realised he had a true love for the food he grew up with and didn’t like the fact that he couldn’t leave his house in London and be able to readily eat it out. Unlike Turkish food that has had its popularisation, Nick says that London is still yet to reach that point with Cypriot food. Previously being an office worker proved to Nick that desk jobs were not a good fit for a self-proclaimed nomad such as himself so now being outdoors is one of the main bonuses he describes of being a vendor.
Talking to Nick, it’s clear that everything is a labour of love with Cypriot food - from the chopping of all the salads to the homemade pita and even the handmade Sheftalia sausage that can’t be made using a machine. In his words, sometimes he does “curse it all” due to all the hours of prep he puts into each dish but it’s all handmade and it’s all worth it.
Having a friendly and personable nature is something that Nick's customers love and come back to. From going to his stall, it's clear that he loves what he does and endeavours to read each customer through the options and explain any unknown ingredients. It’s all about the customer service experience, Nick says. “You can’t be in this business if you don’t have people skills” and going from being an estate agent to a street food business owner, it’s clear that Nick really values the customer interaction.
Read on for some extra snippets from our exciting interview:
So what would you recommend to a first timer to the stall?
Well, that’s a hard one. If you’re a red meat lover and like a bit of heat, you’ll love the lamb which is marinated for 24 hours in herbs, spices, onion, garlic, oil then slow roasted overnight for 8-10 hours in a woodfire oven. We pull it out and shred it in its juices so it’s definitely a hearty dish, it’s spiced with cumin, cinnamon, clove, oregano so really is quite a special dish as it’s such a slow, long process.
The chicken thigh on the other hand is grilled, seasoned with paprika, lemon juice, oregano, salt so is juicy, lighter, fresher - it just depends on what you fancy on the day but both are delicious!
What’s been your most memorable experience so far as a street food vendor?
The first day of trading at East Village Market in Stratford - I came with a small bbq, handmade sausages (Sheftalia), one griddle, one other person and then all of a sudden there were 40 people in the queue waiting for food. People had to stand there for 3 hours waiting for food which is both a good and a bad thing. It showed me that it doesn’t get more stressful than that but as initial start up memories go, that one stuck with me.
Another experience would be when you look up and have the longest queue in the market. That’s when you know you’re doing something right. It’s important to try and know the names of your loyal customers but I always remind myself to “always remain humble, try and thank everyone each time for coming back” - so that’s exactly what I do at the stall.
Let’s spread the street food love a little - what other street food vendors are you loving at the moment?
There’s so many!
Pochi is headed up by Saori and she serves these Japanese bowls of nutritious good food, anytime she’s at a market I’m trading at, I have to grab a bowl!
The Beefsteaks is also amazing and Alex does a mean steak and chips with chimichurri sauce.
Da Ja Chicken do great asian inspired chicken with fantastic sauces and all the extras.
Taco Dave - just amazing mexican tacos
BBQ Dreamz - fantastic Filipino flavours with the tastiest fried pork belly
Komex - my friend Angus used to work at Kimchinary and has since started a Korean/Mexican fusion stall. Think amazing kimchi with fantastic tomato and coconut rice with meat and guacamole - delicious!
There’s so much exciting street food coming into London at the moment, especially through KERB’s inKERBator scheme and innovation in street food counts for A LOT. Street food is the grass roots of the food industry, it’s no longer about getting questionable Chinese food in Camden because the food that’s now coming out is authentic, regional and generally better - not just MSG and pineapple!
What’s something about Cypriot culture that you wish you could get out to all Londoners?
People pigeonhole Cypriots as either Greek or Turkish and I don’t think you should do that to either the people or the food. The Cypriot people have been owned by every man and his dog so it may surprise people how steeped in culture our food is. Some of it is really similar to Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Persia. With Cyprus Kitchen, I’ve tried to get rid of the cliché aspect of Cyprus and Greece, trying to get away from those souvlaki connotations. Souvlaki is a fantastic dish but I want to be doing more than that!
Team Déjà Vu want to say a great big thank you to Nick from Cyprus Kitchen for sitting down with us for this #DejaVuSpotlight and educating us on the wonders of the Cypriot cuisine. Be sure to check out his Instagram and Twitter because he’s doing really amazing stuff.