The Mediterranean basin, the cradle of many civilizations, has always united the populations that are fascinated by its beautiful waters, also from a gastronomic point of view. Despite the prolific nature of many other diets, the Mediterranean diet, famous and appreciated all over the world, is considered the most complete, balanced and appetizing. Its ancestor, the Mediterranean cuisine, so rich in traditions and recipes able to satisfy any palate, has very similar characters and dishes even in areas inhabited by peoples with very different traditions and cultures. Since ancient times, the Mediterranean basin has given rise to dozens and dozens of very similar preparations, which differ from each other only by name or by the presence or absence of some secondary ingredient. And often the main differences between one dish and another are given by religious beliefs that still impose strict rules even within the kitchen.
How Did The Mediterranean Cuisine Spread
Mediterranean cuisine has also spread thanks to merchants and sailors who came into contact with different populations, exchanged their food knowledge, and hired new ones. Its characteristic is that, through the centuries, it has always been able to perfectly integrate a large number of typical food products of as many cultures. Today as in ancient times, the fundamental foods of the dishes of the Mediterranean basin are cereals, wine and oil, vinegar, citrus aromatic herbs and spices, garlic onion, pepper, and peperoncino, and each of them is more or less used depending on the different traditions. Probably the Greeks were the forerunners of Mediterranean cuisine because their culture has profoundly influenced that of other populations, such as the Etruscans and the Romans: bread, wine, and oil have always been the basic ingredients of all three gastronomic traditions.
Only much later, with the advent of Christianity, other ingredients, such as meat and animal fat, began to integrate with the original ones. The dietary customs and traditions of the court of Constantinople also profoundly influenced the evolution of Mediterranean cuisine, as well as agricultural techniques and products from Muslim countries: sugar, rice, oranges, lemons, apricots, eggplants, and spinach. The Arabs also showed a new, and unique, way of using spices, saffron in the first place, spread the technique of sweet and sour and almond processing, think of marzipan, and also introduced dry pasta. The court of Frederick II, where the influences of Arab-Muslim culture were deeply rooted, was perhaps the one that best represented the integration between East and West. The discovery of the Americas further enriched Mediterranean cuisine with ingredients that are still ubiquitous on our tables today: tomato, potatoes, corn, beans, cocoa, and chili.
What Is The Mediterranean Climate Like?
Like any region, the climate, along with the soil, is one of the main elements that determines the type of crops that can be grown. The Mediterranean climate is distinguished by low rainfall and mild temperatures. The irregular topography and proximity to a large body of saltwater also allows for a wide variety of soil types and, as a result, a wide variety of crops.
Mediterranean Countries And Their Typical Dishes
Mediterranean gastronomy brings together the cuisines of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean: Italy, Spain, France, Greece and many others. Olive oil is one of the main products used in these kitchens, both for cooking food and for uses without cooking.
The diet of the population of these countries by the sea is mainly made up – you guessed it – of seafood: fish, crustaceans, and seafood. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also part of this diet. As for meat, consumed in small quantities, white meat is still preferred to red meat, because it is much leaner.
This cuisine is fresh, light, and healthy, most of the time. It offers a menu rich in fiber, omega-3, and antioxidants. Maybe you’ve even heard of the Mediterranean diet?
Whether you are a traveler or a local, you should not miss out on trying all the delicacies that the Mediterranean has for you. Although the locals already know the taste of these foods, this region is so large that new and surprising gastronomic forms are always found. In this sense, each country has its own.
In the following text, we will travel through the most emblematic countries of the Mediterranean, where the forms of cooking expand from southern Europe and northern Africa touching the Mediterranean Sea. We invite you on a journey full of flavor and discovery, from which you will leave hungry to try everything.
The keys to Mediterranean cuisine are found in its ingredients, three of which are the most representative: olive, wheat and grape. With the first oils made, wheat is used in the preparation of bread or pasta and grapes can be found in wine. These three become essential foods for the daily diet and are part of the typical dishes of places as different as Italy, France, Greece, Turkey, and Spain.
One of the easiest countries to identify, especially for its cuisine. Thanks to wheat, flour is produced, with which the most delicious pizza doughs in the world are made, which are part of the typical dishes of this country. On top of them, the tomato and other typical ingredients of the region make this dish one of the most delicious that exists.
In Italy, in addition to pizza, pasta stands out, with all its iterations, textures and additions. This is obtained from wheat and is usually accompanied by a delicious wine. A perfect dish for a romantic dinner with your partner.
Spain, without a doubt, is one of the most recognizable countries for its dishes. Paella is one of the most famous, so much so that it has broken down barriers and is now found practically everywhere in the world. This dish is famous thanks to the rice, meat, or fish with which it is accompanied.
We cannot forget the mythical potato omelette, which is prepared with fresh vegetables typical of the region. To finish, nothing better than a loaf of bread as a companion and, of course, a little wine to accompany it.
The French have a reputation for being great connoisseurs of the culinary arts, and it is not for less if they have some of the freshest and most delicious ingredients in the world. One of the most common dishes that we all know thanks a movie of the same name is ratatouille, a vegetable stew that is capable of captivating even the most demanding palate. Of course, it should be accompanied by a delicious glass of wine. In France, you can also find delicious meats such as lamb or desserts such as the famous calissons. That way you will have hundreds of options to choose from and all of them will leave you satisfied
What mozzarella is in Italy, feta in Greece: young and old love the spicy cheese that is best bought at one of the local markets. Because so you get some southern European joie de vivre for free. “Cosmos” (universe) is what the Greeks call the hustle and bustle on the street corners and squares, where life rages and the news and rumors of the day are passed on gesturally. And while you have a little chat, you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables, olive oil, or handmade sausage and cheese specialties at the stalls. These markets are currently experiencing a renaissance in Greece. Because food is often fresher here and even cheaper than in the supermarket.
In the evening in the taverns of the Greek towns and villages, you will meet many convivial round tables. “The bigger the society, the better” is the motto here. By the way, the dishes that are served there have little to do with what we eat here at the Greek. The real Greek salad – called horiatiki – consists of tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, onions, and a slice of sheep’s cheese on top. No trace of coleslaw! Almost unknown to us is also another Mediterranean salad specialty: Chorta. Edible wild vegetables fresh from the market. Behind this collective term are super-healthy, sometimes slightly bitter-tasting wild herbs such as vlita, which taste simply wonderful when cooked as a warm or cold salad with lemon juice and olive oil. An ouzo or the typical pomace brandy Tsipouro goes well with this.
The neighboring country Turkey also has its own coffee culture and a mocha should not be missing hereafter any meal. But strong aromas not only permeate the coffee houses in the land between Orient and Occident, but also the spice corners on the colorful bazaars spread an inimitable scent. Because spices belong to Turkey like the ouzo to Greece or the pizza to Italy. Of course, even here in Germany, well-stocked Turkish shops offer spices such as the Ottoman mixture Baharat, spicy Pul beaver or dried Nane mint leaves. But you can’t get them fresher and more aromatic than directly from the open jute bag from the bazaar. The experience of enjoying putting together the fragrant travel souvenirs should not be missed by any Turkey holidaymaker! In addition to the spice sellers (don’t forget to act!), the operators of the many street kitchens, who – especially in larger Turkish cities – offer spicy specialties directly from the wagon or stand to the hand food know what goes particularly well with which dishes. In Istanbul, the Istanbul Culinary Institute organizes special street food tours through the city with tasting stops at various street kitchens.
The Maghreb corresponds to the culinary practices of the countries and ethnic groups that live and make up the so-called: Maghreb in geographical opposition to the Mashreq. The cuisines of the Maghreb have in their northernmost part typical characteristics of Mediterranean cuisine, while they are connected with part of the African cuisines. It has great influences from the native Berbers, some of the Turkish cuisine (with the exception of Moroccan cuisine) due to the expansion of the Ottoman Empire, and that is why you can see the dolmas and the baklava in many of its regions.
The foods used are marked by the halal standards of Islam, for this reason pork is not eaten, but there is a common denominator between lamb meat and poultry. The most famous and common of the Maghrebi ingredients is Couscous. Some of the most common condiments in the Maghreb are harîssa pasta and in the marinade of fish, Chermoula is considered a basic ingredient in all regions. The use of mint in dishes with meat is very pronounced in Moroccan cuisine as well as in eastern Algeria and Tunisia. The three countries Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia have adopted the technique of preservation and drying of meat called gedîd, in which spices are mixed with meat and salt and all this is left to dry in the sun.
The instrument common to the kitchens of the Maghreb is the omnipresent tajine in all dining rooms, restaurants, and food places. The use of couscous makes the couscusera equally present in many cuisines of the Maghreb.
Among all the exotic offers in restaurants and take-aways, oriental cuisine is becoming more and more important. Diverse culinary impulses from Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon are summarized under the term Levante cuisine and stylishly staged.
Although the cuisine has its origin in Israel. But the Arab influence is unmistakable and reaches as far as the countries of North Africa. Through numerous European immigrants and from the time of the colonies, we can also recognize European accents.
These are the countries that border the Eastern Mediterranean, i.e.
- and Syria.
Many of the dishes from the Levantese cuisine can also be found in the kitchens of Turkey, Cyprus, and Greece.
It brings the diversity of the Eastern Mediterranean to the plate. The dishes consist of a lot of vegetables, fruits, and legumes and are refined and seasoned. Meat plays a subordinate role. In the Levante cuisine, the culture of sharing is celebrated, especially in the popular mezze.
Conviviality and hospitality are the focus. You distribute the many bowls with the lovingly prepared appetizers on the table and enjoy the delicious specialties together.
Mezze is one of the appetizers. But they are nutritious enough to replace a main meal.
Many of the dishes can be prepared in different ways, such as hummus or stuffed eggplant, which is available vegetarian or with meat. The same goes for tabouleh, which is one of the rare light recipes of Levantine cuisine.