Mediterranean Cuisine is popular all over the world for its health benefits and for the delicious food choices. Based on natural ingredients and healthy food preparation methods, Mediterranean food owns its own history for many years. From delicious hummus to falafels there are different food choices that everyone can satisfy their taste buds without being guilty about health when indulge in this delicious and ancient cuisine gifted to the world from the region of Mediterranean.
What is Mediterranean cuisine
Unlike other types of cuisine which are generally based on ethnicity or culture, Mediterranean cuisine is a product of the culinary trends that are followed by the people who live in the geographic region surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. This geographic region encompasses many countries. As a result, some differences can be found in the methods of food preparation among these countries.
In fact, Mediterranean cuisine can be divided into other sub-cuisine such as Egyptian, Maghrebi, Greek, Levantine, Spanish, Ottoman(Turkish), Provencal(French) and Italian.
History of Mediterranean cuisine
Mediterranean cuisine is an amalgamation of different cultures. Throughout history, the Mediterranean has been a major trading hub due to being the intersection between Europe, Asia, and Africa. This allowed traders from different countries to inter-exchange their cultural commodities like spices and herbs with the people of this region.
The ingredients of Mediterranean cuisine changed throughout the course of history. A major shift occurred during the middle ages when the Arabs introduced food such as aubergines, sugar cane, spinach, apricots, rice, and citrus fruits into Spain, Portugal, and Sicily.
America further introduced two major foods into the North European cuisine during the 16th century – Tomatoes and potatoes. Tomatoes have now become central to the cuisine.
Basics of Mediterranean cuisine
The key ingredients of traditional Mediterranean cuisine include a trinity of basic ingredients – olive(oil), wheat(bread) and grape(wine). Aside from these, it is common to use aromatic perfume of spices made from wild marjoram, rosemary, and basil along with saffron, and garlic.
The Mediterranean climate and terrain has resulted in a rich diversity of flora to flourish in the region. Thus, it is common for people to consume fresh vegetables like tomatoes, squash, eggplant, onions, legumes, okra, mushrooms, cucumbers, artichoke, and lettuce. Vegetables are generally roasted, sautéed grilled, baked or puréed. The only exception is salads where they are served fresh.
Meat items are generally grilled. They come from animals such as pig, goat, sheep, and chicken. Seafood like sea bream or squid is often fried, stuffed or eaten in stews. People also consume yogurt and cheese which are made from goat and sheep milk.
The cultural similarities and differences can further divide the Mediterranean into 3 culinary regions –
1. Eastern Mediterranean cuisine – It preserves the culinary traditions of Turkey, Greece, Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, and Egypt. It features fresh cheese like halloumi, feta, labneh, and yogurt. Lemon juice is used along with herbs and spices like parsley, mint, and sumac
Non-veg items include mutton, lamb, poultry and goat. They are commonly served with pita and lavash.
2. Southern European cuisine – It describes the culinary traditions of Southern France, Italy, and Spain. Rice, pasta, and leavened bread are the staple foods of this region. Pork is more commonly consumed than other types of meat. Also, wine is used as a flavor enhancer.
3. North African cuisine – It is primarily found in Algeria, Morocco, Libya, and Tunisia. It is characterized by an abundant use of spices such as coriander, cumin, cinnamon, saffron, cloves, chilies, and paprika in their cooking traditions.
The bordering countries also have their distinct regional cuisines which, in fact, have provincial and national variations.
Some popular foods in Mediterranean cuisine
Some popular foods in Mediterranean cuisine include Maghrebi dish couscous, Egyptian dish falafel, Levantine dish baba ganoush, Ottoman dish borek, Greek dish moussaka, Italian dish risotto, French dish bouillabaisse, and Spanish dish paella.
Benefits of the Mediterranean diet
Other than the delicious food and tastes that you can experience, Mediterranean food carries lot of health benefits too. Many researches reveal that Mediterranean diet has its own health benefits including lowering risks of heart diseases. This is due to the main ingredients that are used in Mediterranean food preparations. Most of the basic ingredients include healthy food choices such as nuts, olive oil and many other ingredients that are knowns as heart healthy and full with necessary supplements.
Some of the noticeable healthy solutions includes in Mediterranean food are as below.
Mediterranean food preparations involve lot of olive oil which is considered as healthy fat.
It limits use of red meats. In a Mediterranean diet, usually red meat includes few times in a month.
Traditional Mediterranean food are basically based on plant based foods. Healthy nuts, fruits and vegetables are main parts of such food preparations.
Other than the benefits of food preparation and food ingredients, traditionally Mediterranean diet include sharing and enjoying of food with family and friends. This tradition helps reducing stress and also improving relationships. As a result, anyone who follows a Mediterranean diet will improve his or her health.
The Mediterranean cuisine today
Due to the popularity of Mediterranean food, nowadays it is not that difficult to enjoy this cuisine in most parts of the world. You don’t have to travel to the Middle East or any other country in Mediterranean region to enjoy such delicious food. There are many Mediterranean restaurants emerging in many countries including the west. Even in Singapore, there are Mediterranean food restaurants which you can indulge in delicious food until your cravings are satisfied. However if you visit a Mediterranean restaurant, it is necessary to ensure that they serve real traditional Mediterranean food not some food items that are inspired by Mediterranean cuisine. In most countries there are Mediterranean restaurants founded by immigrants from the Mediterranean region. Therefore they serve ethnic Mediterranean food following their traditional way of cooking. For example, New-Brunswick restaurants are run by Lebanese immigrants which is why they can offer real authentic Mediterranean food for their clients. Likewise there are Mediterranean restaurants which are run by people from the region who knows the authentic Mediterranean food very well.
I am sure you are craving for Mediterranean cuisine now. It is not a surprise. With aromas of fresh spices and colors of fresh fruits and vegetables, Mediterranean foods are must taste if you love enjoying food from different cuisines!