When you think of the Mediterranean and the Adriatic there’s no doubt that cobblestone streets, historic architecture and picture-perfect coastlines will pop straight into your head.
But as you’ll find out from an Adriatic or popular Mediterranean cruise, which visits many countries within the regions, the food is something that you won’t forget and will get your taste buds flowing.
The cuisine is diverse and it offers something for every type of traveller, but which countries within the Mediterranean and Adriatic will have your Instagram glowing and your friends green with envy?
We’ve gathered together some expert opinions about the best countries to visit for foodies in the two regions, that you can visit when your cruise drops anchor.
Recommended cruise: Barcelona cruises
From tasty tapas to superb seafood and traditional roasts, Spanish food is renowned all over the world and is famed for using local produce.
Pablo Vázquez, who runs Spain Food Sherpas, believes the country is a great foodie destination for cruisers.
“In our opinion Spain is a wonderful foodie destination because of many reasons: we’ve got the produce (being the vegetable garden of Europe; worldwide the biggest olive oil producer; featuring a wide range of quality products like the Iberian pig, cattle in the north of Spain and all types of seafood); our wines (red, white, cava, sweet, sherry); the cultural and historic heritage our cuisine represents with Arabian, Roman or Sephardic influence; and we have some of the most special treats like rice fields in Valencia, sugar cane plantations on the tropical coast of Malaga and Granada or Saffron.
“One of the best ways to discover the gastronomy of a place is to take a food tour. Food tours are about visiting places most people wouldn’t necessarily find on their own, like off-the-beaten-track ‘ultramarinos’ (typical old Spanish grocery stores) and speciality stores. Another interesting aspect is that the dishes offered are tasty and representative of the region, and also food you wouldn’t have ordered by yourself.”
Kate Zeller, who runs the Thyme for Cooking blog, also highly recommends Spain as a great destination for foodies.
She adds, “Trying to decide which Mediterranean country for a food-lover to visit is truly a challenge but my choice would be Spain. Partly because the world knows France (where I live) as a centre for fantastic food and Italy is always high on everyone’s list to visit, but, mainly, because I think the food of Spain is wonderful and still somewhat unknown, especially in its purest form.”
Foods to try
Laura from Eat Your World recommends travelling to the Basque country and eating Pintxos.
She says, “The thing to eat in cities like San Sebastian and Bilbao is pintxos, like tapas but better: They're little culinary treats, generally either bite-size morsels or small plates of food, proudly displayed on the tops of bars or made to order. Pintxos can consist of any number of things, from the surprisingly simple to the superbly innovative: perfectly sautéed pulpo (octopus); grilled baby squid with chestnut puree; a hunk of crusty bread topped with a salted-cod-stuffed pepper…or a hundred other things. Sample as many as humanly possible!”
Paella is Spain’s most iconic dish and many of Spain’s Michelin starred restaurants will serve this popular meal. Paella originated from close-by to Valencia, but now many people regard it as Spain’s national dish.
It is a dish that Pablo Vázquez of Spain Food Sherpas says you should definitely try whilst in Spain.
“There are very different ways of preparing this appetising rice dish, but our favourite one is the Seafood Paella.”
Roast Suckling Lamb or Pig
Kate Zeller, says, “The dish I would recommend people try, that they are not likely to find easily in other areas, would be the Roast Suckling Lamb or Pig. There are Asadores all over Spain specialising in this delicacy. It has crisp skin and moist tender meat that falls off the bone.”
Recommended cruise: Rome cruises
Italian food is more than just pizza and spaghetti. There’s a wide range of dishes, flavours and exuberant ingredients you can try in the country.
Alida from My Little Italian Kitchen says Italy should be the number one choice for foodies heading on a cruise to the Mediterranean.
“Italy would certainly be my number one choice, wherever you go there is so much to discover. There is no such a thing as ‘Italian food’ as each region and sometimes each city can be very different.
“What I particularly love about holidays in the Mediterranean area are those gorgeous looking fruits and vegetables you see on display in local markets. A simple ripe tomato sliced and drizzled with olive oil can deliver a wonderful and intense flavour radiating sunshine and the joy of eating food that's in season. Simplicity, quality of ingredients and eating in season is key to the success of Italian cooking.”
Lorna from The Roman Guy agrees that Italy is a foodie’s dream. She says, “Italy may sound like an obvious one, but many don't know that ‘Italian’ food doesn't exist. That's because what we know as ‘Italian’ food is actually made up of cuisines from each region in Italy. The food you find in the north is nothing like that found in the heel of Italy's boot.
“Rome is a popular city to visit and home to a major port in Italy, Civitavecchia. In big cities, it can be hard to find what you would assume to be authentic food. In Rome, I recommend using your ears more than your nose to find the tastiest local Roman food. Wherever the Italians and Roman gather, you can be confident that the food is good. Don't let Italian language menus scare you away, you'll undoubtedly find an English speaker somewhere in the restaurant to help translate.”
Foods to try
Local pasta dishes
When it comes to pasta, Italy is unrivalled. As the world's biggest producers and consumers – estimated to consume 25 kilos per person every year – Italians will happily eat pasta more than once a day.
The Roman Guy’s Lorna, adds, “If you really want to taste Rome, make sure you try these local pasta dishes: Carbonara, Amatriciana and Caio e Pepe, which all originate in Lazio, the region where you find Rome. For the main, don't pass up on some offal. It might not sound great, but most of the Roman cuisine is called "Cucina Povera" (poor kitchen), meaning they use all parts of the animal and source their ingredients locally. One of my favourites is the oxtail, or "Coda Alla vaccinara" in a rich cinnamon based sauce. For dessert, try one of the local sweet treats, like Maritozzo - a bun absolutely packed with fresh sweet cream.”
Montenegro and Albania
Recommended cruise: Kotor cruises
Although not as widely known as the likes of Spain and Italy for being popular foodie destinations, the likes of Montenegro and Albania more than holds their own when it comes to its cuisine.
Alice, who runs The Balkanista site, says Albania should be a must-visit for foodies.
“Albania has to be top of the list. Whilst many know nothing about this place or have some negative preconceptions, they couldn’t be further from the truth. When it comes to food, it is a foodie’s paradise. Albanian cuisine consists of a lot of meat and fish paired with dairy and fresh vegetables. Frozen food doesn’t exist here and everything is seasonal and straight from the farm to the table. Dishes are lightly seasoned and instead rely on the rich natural flavours of the ingredients, to make a truly mouth-watering menu. Think simple, seasonal, and utterly scrumptious.”
Montenegro might be a small country, but it also has a great reputation for its cuisine amongst people who have visited.
In an article on Culture Trip, Sarah Pavlovic, says, “It ranges from garlicky seafood on the coast to hearty mountain fare designed to keep hard-working farmers going. Every region has its specialities.”
Foods to try
While different areas of Albania boast their own traditional dishes one dish that stands out for Alice is Himare.
“I recommend going to Himare and eating grilled fresh fish with a Greek-style salad. In Tirana, you can eat fergese which is smoked veal baked with cheese, yoghurt, and spices. Alternatively, you can sit by the sea and dine on raw prawns drizzled with lemon juice, fresh olive oil, and crushed red peppercorns.”
Tres leches cake
If you are enjoying a meal and are looking for a dessert to try, then it should be tres leches cake, according to Alice.
“For dessert, I recommend tres leches cake- a sponge soaked in three kinds of milk, or a saltaish which is the Albanian take on a rice pudding- sprinkled with cinnamon and dried cherries. If you have room for more, I would go for petualla- fried dough balls typically eaten with salty goats’ cheese and organic honey.”
The steak has become a Montenegrin classic and being made of a veal or pork schnitzel filled with Njegusi prosciutto and cheese, there are a number of flavours to enjoy.
The traditional steak will also come with a generous dollop of melting kajmak, a local cream cheese. Other versions of the steak include Karadjordjeva Schnitzel, also known as ‘maiden’s dream’, where the filled schnitzel is rolled, breaded and fried.
Recommended cruise: Santorini Cruises
It sounds cliché, but you really can't go wrong with Greek food. The Mediterranean diet is considered one of the healthiest in the world. The core traditional Greek diet focuses mostly on food from natural sources from seasonal products.
Natasha from The World Pursuit has written several food-related articles about Greece and she says there are lots of great food to be had.
“No matter your diet you are bound to find great food in Greece. They are well known for their meat ‘souvlaki’ dishes, have fresh and local seafood, and it's also possible to eat vegetarian. All at an affordable price!”
Foods to try
Dakos, also known as ntakos or in eastern Crete as kouloukopsomo, this popular Cretan meze consists of a slice of soaked dried bread or barley rusk (paximadi) topped with chopped tomatoes and crumbled feta or mizithra cheese.
Generally, this delicious dish is flavoured with herbs such as dried oregano in Greece, while olives and pepper is also a popular addition too.
Image Credit: Haydn Blackey (flickr.com)
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