The official language is Turkish, but English is also widely spoken as a second language. Turkish uses the European script, and all road signs are in both languages.
The majority of the Turkish Cypriots are Muslim and although very few regularly attend mosque services or wear religious attire, most celebrate religious festivals. Christian worship is permitted in licensed buildings and a growing number of Europeans come to Northern Cyprus for their weddings. The beautiful old Anglican Church of St. Andrew, which is near the harbour in Kyrenia, has been an English Church since colonial times.
The culture of a place is always reflected in its kitchen, and Northern Cyprus is no exception. Cypriot cooking, like its people, is unique. Eating out is popular amongst locals and the choice of cuisine reflects this, combining many wonderful and varied tastes from the Mediterranean, Turkey and the Middle East. In larger towns, a range of international restaurants also offer dishes from around the world.
A typical Turkish Cypriot restaurant meal consists of meze, kebabs (lamb or chicken) or fish, followed by fruit and coffee. Meze is a selection of hot and cold appetizers - the Turkish Cypriot equivalent of Tapas – such as kofte (meatballs), hummus dips, mint yogurt, hellim (goat’s milk cheese). A Turkish Cypriot speciality is the şeftali kebab (peach kebab), made with minced meat, chopped onion and spices, wrapped in lamb fat and grilled. Other mouth-watering dishes include marinated fish and squid - and for dessert, lokma (small doughnuts in syrup), Ekmek Kadayif with Cream (Turkish Cypriot bread pudding) or baklava, as well as freshly-picked fruit such as sweet melon, oranges and figs. Wash your meal down with a glass of rakı (alcoholic aniseed drink), or there are also many good wines, beers and spirits, including the famous brandy sour drink – a cocktail made with brandy, lemon juice and angostura bitters. If you have room, you may want to finish off with a fix of thick Turkish coffee or tea.
Cypriot home cooking is delicious, but is only found in a handful of restaurants in North Cyprus, so do look out for them. Traditional cuisine makes fine use of the abundant fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices in North Cyprus that can be bought and enjoyed in the many farmers’ markets and food festivals, as well as the shops and supermarkets – which means Turkish Cypriot cuisine is also packed with vegetarian dishes such as yalancı dolma (stuffed vine leaves with rice, onions and tomatoes), stuffed peppers and tomatoes, melt in the mouth aubergine dishes, sigara börek (fried white-cheese rolled in pastry), bulgur koftesi (cracked wheat balls) and home made baked beans. Fresh herbs such as wild thyme, calamint, fennel, oregano and sage flourish in the mountains, ready for picking in June.
For population of Turkish Cypriots, family life is of ultimate importance and therefore a great amount of their free time is spent at family gatherings, barbeques and weddings. All towns and even some villages hold festivals many of which are in the early summer.
Lefkara embroidery is an old Cypriot tradition dating back to the Venetian period, where beautiful and intricate items such as bed covers, table cloths, doilies and head-scarves were weaved using drawn and counted thread embroidery on lace. It is said that on a visit to Cyprus, Leonardo da Vinci was so impressed by the Lefkara adaptation of Venetian embroidery that he took some of the embroidery bearing the “potamos” design back to Italy to drape on the altar in the Milan Cathedral. Today, this design is known as the “Leonardo da Vinci design”.
Carpet weaving is another age-old Cypriot tradition and is mostly found in the Famagusta (Gazimağusa) region. Kilims (small floor rugs) with colourful designs and patterns make ideal souvenirs or gifts, whilst wicker basket weaving is another Cypriot art form that is popular with locals and tourists.