The Mediterranean Food and Its History
Unlike other indigenous cuisines, the Mediterranean food is a product of shared culinary trends and influenced by a diverse group of people who lived along the Mediterranean Sea. While the Mediterranean dishes are considered as a unified culinary tradition, it isn’t ruled by a specific culture, and in fact has a huge amount of variance in cooking.
The very first world civilization bloomed amongst the temperate climate and rich soil of this region. Their agricultural production flourished and became a main trading place of people who came from Europe, Asia, and Africa. People from these countries exchanged basic commodities like spices, wheat, and various goods which resulted into a wide array of ingredients in the region. It was because of this form of trade and business that built the major elements of Mediterranean meals. Today, the region boasts a huge selection of cuisines, like Levantine, Italian, Ottoman or Greek, Maghrebi, Spanish, and French.
Conquests were also one of the major elements that shaped the Mediterranean cooking. When a government overthrows another, the new civilization would often execute their own culinary and cultural practices on the dominated society. As a result of these conquests, societies have blended together, thereby cooking practices of the conquering group were conformed and adopted by the conquered.
The characteristics of the Mediterranean food list are heavily influenced by its location and climate. The warm temperature in the region yields bountiful harvests that shaped its vegetable-dominant dishes. Olive trees are scattered amongst the region, thus the prevalence of the production of olive oil and the preservation of olives in jars. Olive oil was the primary exported ingredient of the people in the Mediterranean region. This pungent oil works perfectly in many dishes either as a dressing or as a cooking agent that adds a slight hint of acidity and extra punch.
Aside from the three core elements that defines Mediterranean cuisine—oil, bread, and wine—fresh vegetables all flourished. Common vegetables that are produced and harvested in these countries are artichokes, tomatoes, eggplants, legumes, mushrooms, and onions. These fresh vegetables are then prepared in a variety of forms: roasted, baked, sautéed, pureed, grilled, or served raw in salads.
Fresh herbs are used in abundance because the climate of the Mediterranean region is well-suited to cultivating herbaceous plants, like rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, and parsley.
Seafood also makes frequent appearances in many Mediterranean dishes due to the close proximity of this region to the Mediterranean Sea. Meat is used rarely as this region’s rocky terrain can’t support herding bigger animals, so the meat production is limited to domesticated animals like sheep, goat, chicken, and pigs.
While there are many elements that merge the diverse culinary traditions of the Mediterranean, note that there are also subtle differences that separate one from the other. Basically, there are three culinary regions: North Africa, Eastern Mediterranean, and Southern Europe. Eastern Mediterranean dishes are characterized by the frequent use of yogurt and cheese in sauces. The flavors of sumac, parsley, and mint are the most prominent features of Eastern Mediterranean dishes.
On the other hand, Southern Europe cuisine, describes the culinary tradition of Southern France, Italy, and Spain, and uses wine as a flavor enhancement in many dishes. They also tend to use more meat than any other Mediterranean countries.
Lastly, North African cuisine can easily be distinguished by its lavish use of spices. Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, and Morocco all use coriander, cumin, saffron, cloves, cinnamon, paprika, and chilies, in order to give an extra pang of heat to their dishes. The Moroccan dish, a popular food in many Mediterranean restaurants, is perhaps the most hearty and aromatic meal that one can possibly have. It is composed of a slow-cooked stew of meat, some sauce, and plentiful of vegetables that makes it a perfectly well-balanced dish.