MEDITERRANEAN FOOD: THE TIES THAT BIND A REGION

Learn more about Mediterranean cruises

Much has been written about the health benefits of Mediterranean cuisine. As food fads come and go, this culinary and cultural phenomenon has stood the test of time. In fact, its value to world culture is such that UNESCO named Mediterranean food to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

What is Mediterranean Food?

The sea from which it gets is named is vast, stretching from the Straits of Gibraltar to the coasts of Turkey and the near Middle East, with North Africa and much of Southern Europe in between. This area is a tapestry of religious, ethnic, and geographical differences. So how can there be one cuisine defining it? The simple truth is, despite all that seems to separate these people (national boundaries, languages, religions, etc.), the sea has always been the binding factor. Thousands of years of trade, conquest, and communication along this ancient superhighway have resulted in a shared love of creativity, community, family, and, of course, food.

Perhaps the language from the UNESCO inscription best describes what makes up Mediterranean cuisine:

“Eating together is the foundation of the cultural identity and continuity of communities throughout the Mediterranean basin. It is a moment of social exchange and communication, an affirmation and renewal of family, group or community identity. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes values of hospitality, neighbourliness, intercultural dialogue and creativity, and a way of life guided by respect for diversity.”

These are the common ties that bind the Mediterranean and have influenced the food we enjoy today.

Key Ingredients

Certainly variations in ingredients exist throughout the region. However, there are enough commonalities to broadly state that Mediterranean food relies heavily upon vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, whole grains, herbs, spices, seafood, and olive oil. Meat from animals (chickens, rabbits, goats) does play a role, but due to the rough terrain found in coastal regions of much of the Mediterranean, herds are typically small, making meat an optional ingredient or it’s relegated to a supporting role in traditional Mediterranean cuisine.

Dishes to try on your next Mediterranean cruise:

Paella: No visit to Spain would be complete without tasting what is commonly referred to as the country’s national dish. Valencia paella tends to be regarded as the most traditional form — made of beans, rice, tomato, spices, olive oil, chicken, rabbit, and snails.

Ratatouille: Thought to have its origins in the French city of Nice, Ratatouille is a vegetable stew blending eggplant, squash, peppers, and more into a colorful menagerie that is as much a delight to the eyes as it is to the taste buds.

Pizza: Yes, pizza is Mediterranean food! The European port city of Naples is the home of this international favorite. The humble Margherita pizza, made of wheat crust, mozzarella, basil, tomatoes, and olive oil, exemplifies the rustic simplicity of Mediterranean food.

Sarde in Saor: A Venice specialty, this sweet and sour sardine dish relies heavily on onions and vinegar for its flavor, but the addition of pine nuts and raisins give it a subtle sweetness that offsets the sour.

Brodet: This fisherman’s stew is a staple of Croatian costal cuisine. A mix of fresh vegetables, at least three different kinds of fish, olive oil, wine, garlic, and perhaps a shellfish added for good measure, it’s typically served with a side of polenta.

Kuru Fasulye: A simple dish of tomato paste, olive oil, onion, and white beans, Kuru Fasulye is considered an unofficial national dish in Turkey. When mixed with a side of rice pilaf, this bean stew becomes a comfort food that’s perfect after a long day of sightseeing in Istanbul.

Learn more about different types of Mediterranean food on a cruise to Europe with Holland America Line.