Mediterranean cuisine is known the world over for its simple dishes, fresh ingredients and amazing flavours. And, although it is possible to recreate the style of dishes elsewhere in the world, it’s impossible to fully recreate the soul of the food.
That’s why, when you’re enjoying a Mediterranean cruise, making sure you sample as much local fare as possible is a must. There are few other places in the world where even a simple tomato can wow your taste buds.
The Mediterranean’s food prowess certainly comes because of the optimal growing conditions in the area. With warm sunshine and rich soil, the flavour of the food comes straight from the land itself and it creates an experience that will stay with you forever.
Makos, a Cretan food blogger at The Hungry Bites and lover of all things Mediterranean, told us more about what stands cuisine from this region head and shoulders about the rest of the world: “Mediterranean food primarily consists of local, seasonal, fresh and unprocessed ingredients. Most of the traditional recipes treat those ingredients with respect, focusing to enhance the natural flavour of foods rather than trying to mask it by using an excessive amount of spices, sugars, or artificial flavours.
“In addition, because of the micro-climate and the rich soil in many Mediterranean areas and the higher salinity of the Mediterranean Sea, the produce of the earth and the sea is very flavourful.”
Image Credit: The Hungry Bites
What to eat and drink when in the Mediterranean
We asked Makos what he would suggest people try when in the Mediterranean: “If you happen to visit the Mediterranean you have to try fresh olive oil in salads, local honey (especially thyme honey), local cheeses, fish and seafood (especially grilled), and fresh seasonal fruit. Also, depending on the region you'll visit, you may be able to find interesting wines made from local grape varieties.”
We also spoke to Mindi from 2 Food Trippers, to get her recommendations, she told us: “Eating Mediterranean food is always a highlight when we visit European countries like Italy and Greece. Not only is this cuisine one of the healthiest in the world, but it's also filled with ingredients that taste best at the source. We recommend eating pasta made with sun-ripened tomatoes, pungent olives and fresh seafood. Pair the pasta with a glass or two of local red wine for ultimate satisfaction.”
Pasta is something we’ve all eaten before, it’s a cupboard staple and may not seem like the most exciting thing. However, the difference between store-bought, dried pasta and freshly made pasta is astounding.
A craft dating back thousands of years, people have been eating pasta since at least 1st Century AD, when it was described by Horace as an everyday foodstuff. It’s often remarked that pasta making is an art, and it’s something you should certainly try, especially if you are visiting Italy.
Fresh pasta in Italy is of such high quality that it only needs to be served with a simple butter sauce, or even just some glugs of fresh olive oil, to create an amazing dish. There is a great range of shore excursions which can allow you to learn the craft yourself with professionals, and of course, sample your make at the end.
Shore Excursion: Handmade pasta class with local Sfoglina - Italy
Shore Excursion: Italian pasta school - Italy
Shore Excursion: Pasta making at a local farmhouse - Italy
Something that is quite a throwaway item in most kitchens, the elevated image of olive oil in the Med comes from the freshness of flavour of the olives. It truly is incomparable to the kind stocked in a cheap bottle on supermarket shelves in the UK.
Mediterranean food is thought to have three main pillars; wine, wheat and olives, and because of this, olive oil is unavoidable. Found on tables at most restaurants, and a staple of Mediterranean cooking, olive oil may not seem like the most exciting ingredient, but a proper olive oil can lift the flavour palate of any dish. Whether served with fresh bread and balsamic vinegar for dipping, drizzled over pasta or salad or used whilst cooking, it brings Mediterranean soul to food.
Fresh Fruit and Vegetables
When talking about foods that are better in the Mediterranean, fresh fruit vegetables deserve their own award. Thanks to the rich soil and warm sunshine, fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables take on a life of their own and are filled with flavour. And, as food is such an important pillar of life everywhere from Greece to southern Spain, it’s much easier to get hold of fresh ingredients.
Tomatoes may not seem like food you’d usually give a second thought to, but during the summer months when in season, you will find them more popular than ever. The ideal example of fresh produce being better in the Med, tomatoes are often added to Italian dishes alongside fresh mozzarella and basil to imitate the colourings of the Italian flag, for example in tricolore, a salad, or even on a traditional Neapolitan pizza. This makes them an intrinsic part of not just the food scene, but the culture as a whole.
Shore Excursion: Tomato tasting in Tuscany - Italy
With over 46,000 kilometres of coastline around the Mediterranean Sea, it’s no surprise that many of the countries in the area have an affinity for seafood. On Greek islands, you can walk down to small fishing ports to see octopi hanging from lines after being caught. Fresh oysters are shucked and sold on the seaside in Croatia. In Spain, the smell of paella drifts from restaurants as shrimps, mussels and more are slowly cooked.
Whether you simply enjoy some fresh seafood dishes or even find a way to try your hand at fishing yourself, seafood lovers can rejoice in the Med.
Shore Excursion: Taste of Ston: They Oyster capital of Croatia - Croatia
What is a holiday without wine? Wine lovers will be pleased to know that the Mediterranean is home to some of the best destinations for wine lovers in the world. With different countries growing a range of grapes and creating various styles, there is plenty to try on your trip and no two glasses should ever taste the same.
For the real sommeliers amongst us, taking in a vineyard whilst in Southern Europe is a must. You can learn more about the winemaking process, walk through sweeping countryside between the vines and even sample a flight with a professional before heading back to the ship. With, of course, a few bottles to remember the trip by!
Shore Excursion: Manousakis Winery and Vineyards by 4X4 - Greece
Shore Excursion: Wine tasting in Cinque Terre - Italy
Learning to cook whilst on a Mediterranean cruise
If you are a lover of all things Mediterranean already and want to use your time in the Med to enhance that, then taking a cooking class is essential. All of our shore excursions harness the knowledge of local experts and give you an authentic experience where you can learn from a real master.
Whether you are more passionate about Greek cuisine or Spanish, we can connect you with local experts to give you a class filled with lessons you’ll take home and treasure forever.
Shore Excursion: Cooking class at Liotrivi Historic Mansion - Greece
Shore Excursion: Cooking class with Antonio and Fiona - Italy
Shore Excursion: Gourmet cooking class with Amelia Gomez - Spain
Alternatively, a Land Program can allow you to unlock even more of this beautiful region of the world and get deeper into the foodie scene.
Land Program: Castellos & Wines of Tuscany - Italy
So, whether you are looking to sample the freshest of tomatoes, walk among vineyards or even learn how to make authentic pasta to impress your family and friends at home, a Mediterranean cruise can unlock the start of your Med cuisine adventure, tantalise your taste buds and leave you wondering how much food you can fit in your luggage to take home.