NICOSIA (Reuters Life!) - The Cypriot equivalent of a national sport -- the barbeque -- has taken on a healthier and ecological twist in the form of the "eco-souvla".
Souvla, meaning barbecue in Greek, is probably the Cypriots' best-loved pastime bar watching football, drinking coffee and smoking.
And it is easy to understand why it is so difficult to resist the temptation of having a nibble on the charcoal-cooked meat or fish on offer -- the beguiling smell of barbequed meat wafts through the air on this eastern Mediterranean island most days.
It smells and tastes great, but experts say it is also unhealthy. Doctors have blamed barbequed meat for the majority of heart attacks in Cypriots, and the residue of coal fumes mixed with fat dripping is widely said to be carcinogenic.
Now, a new-fangled contraption could vanquish all these problems. The eco-souvla. Its inventor, 54-year-old mechanical engineer Kyriacos Parmatzis, says his device is environmentally friendly and easy on the heart.
"The meat is softer, healthier and there is no carbon dioxide on it," he said.
His reasoning is simply that with no smoke given off from the charcoal used in the barbeque, no carbon dioxide is being emitted into the atmosphere and the meat avoids being smoked-out by carcinogenic fumes.
"There is no fuel involved in lighting the charcoal, and the only smoke emitted is when you first light the coals," he said.
Parmatzis began work on the idea in 2004, and it took 3 years before it was up and running. A small amount of coal is placed in a rectangular metal basket and fitted into the stainless steel device, which in the Cypriot dialect is known as a 'foukou'.
It is then lit with a blow torch and covered with a lid. When the coals are glowing it is time to place the skewers of meat or fish into position.
"The idea came about as a bet," Parmatzis said. "A guy from the capital (Nicosia) said 'I bet you can't make souvla without smoke' so I took on the challenge."
The cooking time is cut by half, so your average skewer of chicken or pork will take 45 minutes, lamb about an hour and fish a mere 10 to 15 minutes.
Meanwhile charcoal consumption is minimal, as 2.5 kg of coal can cook 10 kg of meat. The largest contraption can cook 48 kg of meat using just a small bag of charcoal.
Sales of the new device, which has a registered patent, on average reach 40 annually, with 90 percent going to hotels. On an international level, most of the sales originate from the UK and Germany, where there are large Cypriot and Greek communities.
The road to success has not been without its drawbacks.
"Every day he was making souvla to test the device, and I would complain that we ate souvla the day before," said his wife Stella.
Editing by Steve Addison