Madeline Blount
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Street Food -- Not For Sale.

March 20, 2009 @ 12:18 PM | Permalink

On the way back to my apartment in Old Nicosia one night, I see this man roasting his souvla on a spit in the street:

Souvla might remind you of the more familiar Greek word, souvlaki -- and that is because it refers to the same roasted meat, it's just that the "aki" ending is diminutive in Greek, making souvlaki mean "little souvla."  The Cypriots like their meat in bigger chunks than the Greeks.  

We are used to seeing street carts selling food, but Giorgos wasn't selling his souvla.  He was merely cooking it for himself and a friend.  He wasn't making it in a park or in a big public square, just on a street corner outside his workplace.  Stumbling upon his grill felt like inadvertently walking into someone's kitchen.  It smelled like it too -- and when he offered me a bite, I felt just a tinge of regret about my decision to attempt to follow the Orthodox fasting period.  Perhaps Giorgos and his delicious-looking rotisserie was a test that I passed.  Or maybe he was simply another example of a Cypriot who does not adhere to all the rules of the traditional religion.  The For-Some-Odd-Reason Fasting Foreigner meets Meat, in the street.

The street souvla kitchen is the inside brought outside in Cyprus, a blurred boundary between private and public space.  I've noticed here that there are no public squares, in the European sense; no major open area with restaurants and cafes, maybe a fountain or a stage for music.  A friend working on urban planning in Nicosia suggested that this could be due to centuries of foreign rule, from the Crusaders to the Venetians to the Ottomans to the British.  Any space that encouraged meeting in public meant the potential for organization and rebellion for the Cypriot population.  So the public space moved inward: the courtyard gardens of traditional houses, where family and friends gather, are inside the bounds of the house.  The streets still aren't places to gather for long in most cases, although this is changing.  

But then Giorgos brings his private kitchen outside.  Maybe what could look to tourists like A Traditional Typical Cypriot Cooking is actually a new tradition, even one with rebellious overtones, one influenced by other cultures and other places.  Or maybe the street can be an extension of Giorgos' private space, not a public one like I am so accustomed to.  The street as a place for everyone and everything to be put on display is something we take for granted, I think, to the point that I would not have thought twice about this scene if Giorgos was just selling his food.  If the public is private in Cyprus, I need to think even harder about borders and boundaries, in a city that already is divided by very real barbed wire walls.


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Loved the ending on this. Related: I find that sometimes I remember a meeting or moment but can't recall what country it happened in. I also find that if I ...

Saleem Reshamwala on Upon Waking, and Placelessness 2009-03-23

Thanks Saleem -- I've also experienced that tonguetied delirium from speaking multiple languages in the same conversation. . . interesting to think of meaning separate from words, does meaning require ...

Madeline Blount on Upon Waking, and Placelessness 2009-03-26

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