Mediterranean cuisine is defined by the presence of fundamental elements which are said to play a more important role than others, reflecting a community of beliefs and practices which transcend religions, languages and even societies. (Mohamed Yassine Essid, Tunisian historian)
Ever since American biologist Ancel Keys and his chemist wife Margaret publicized the concept of “Mediterranean diet” in the early 70s, people around the world have recognized its many benefits. Knowing that Mediterranean countries had some of the highest adult life expectancies in the world and the lowest rates of heart disease, Keys set about to prove that a low-fat diet and regular physical activity are the secret to a long and healthy life.
Despite the different cultures that developed around the Mediterranean Sea and the various dishes they inspired, one defining characteristic since ancient times has been the olive tree, symbol of peace and abundance. Its oil was considered sacred and used in ancient Greek and Hebrew temples, as well as for cooking and cosmetic purposes. Many historians and food writers say that the Mediterranean region is synonymous with the olive tree’s range.
The other two core ingredients of the Mediterranean cuisine are wheat and grapes. The region is famous for its wines, with Italy being the world’s largest producer, followed by France. There are more than 350 grape varieties in Italy, grown from Sicily all the way to the Alps. In France, the Languedoc-Roussillon region – spanning the Mediterranean coastline from Provence to the border with Spain – yields more than a third of the country’s wine production. Wheat has been a staple ingredient in the region for thousands of years, so much so that in Roman times North Africa became the empire’s “breadbasket”. The wheat-based products include pasta, semolina, couscous and burghul.
When talking about Mediterranean cooking, probably the first country that comes to mind is Italy. Once derided for their simple ingredients, Italian dishes gained worldwide popularity after immigrants settled in America and other European countries. To Italians, cooking is more than throwing ingredients together in a pan, it defines who they are. There is a lot of regional diversity, so it’s not uncommon for Italians to tell you that there’s no such thing as “Italian cuisine” because for hundreds of years the territory was divided between city states and republics. As a result, there’s a noticeable difference between regions, from the meat-based dishes and risotto in the North, to the pizza, fish and vegetables in the South. The cheese production is just as varied, with famous examples such as Gorgonzola (Lombardy), parmesan (Emilia-Romagna), the alpine Asiago cheese and Pecorino (Tuscany).
Pizza was invented in Naples in the early XIX century, evolving from a similar street food – a flatbread with garlic, basil and cheese. It’s unclear who had the idea of adding tomato sauce but legend holds that the basic pizza Margherita was created in honor of Margherita of Savoy, the queen consort of the Kingdom of Italy, who was visiting Naples in 1889. Local pizza maker Raffaele Esposito made a dish resembling the Italian flag: red tomatoes, green basil and white mozzarella. While some have doubts about the authenticity of this legend, it’s widely agreed that the still functioning Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba is the first in the world. A popular pasta dish in Naples and Southern Italy is spaghetti alla puttanesca, made with tomatoes, anchovies, olives and capers. Polpi alla Luciana – octopus cooked with tomatoes and chili peppers – is among the most famous local recipes. Absolutely every restaurant carries limoncello on the menu, a lemon liquor served as a digestive. Production is mainly focused around the Gulf of Naples, including the islands of Capri and Ischia, and the Amalfi Coast.
The cuisine of Spain is just as varied as its Italian counterpart, with signature dishes like paella, gazpacho, and jamon serrano, a ham made from specially bred pigs with an acorn based diet. The voyages made to the Americas starting in 1492 brought new ingredients to Spain: tomatoes, bell peppers, corn, potatoes, vanilla and chocolate.
Originally from Valencia, paella is considered by many tourists to be Spain’s national dish. It’s usually prepared with vegetables, seafood or a mixture of pork and chicken, but there are many other varieties of paella. Arroz negro is a rice dish prepared with squid ink that gives a more pronounced seafood flavor.
Catalonia’s location between the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean Sea means this region has a diverse cuisine that relies extensively on fresh local ingredients, especially olives, tomatoes and garlic. Pan tomaca – toast with olive oil and tomato – is a popular breakfast dish from Catalonia that can be found all over Spain. The Catalan cuisine includes many dishes that combine ingredients from the sea and the mountains in a concept called Mar i Muntanya (sea and mountain): shrimp with chicken, pork and seafood, etc.
You can have a great time in Catalonia, where we recommend the following marinas: Port Olimpic de Barcelona built for the 1992 Olympic Games; Port de Sitges, just 35 km away from Barcelona; and Port Fòrum, located in the coastal city of Saint Adria de Besos.
The role played by food in shaping a nation’s culture and way of thinking is evident in Greece, where cooking has evolved over many centuries and assimilated Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman influences. Owing in part to the climatic and geographical conditions, ancient Greeks valued simple eating and had little regard for the culinary arts. Their diet being based on simple Mediterranean ingredients like wheat, olives and fruits, they considered more refined eating habits a sign of weakness. After Greece became part of the Roman Empire, this cult of austerity began to fade and more dishes were developed. This trend continued in Byzantine times, when spices started to flow into Constantinople due to its location on major trading routes.
Most of the Greek dishes today have Persian, Turkish and Arabic roots, including the yoghurt sauce tzatziki; gyros (similar to kebabs); moussaka, a staple in many Balkan and Middle Eastern countries; baklava, a layered pastry popular in many countries, and loukoumi, known around the world as Turkish Delight. Greeks use a large variety of cheeses, being especially fond of feta, a versatile cheese used mainly for salads and pies. Another well-known local cheese is halloumi, with a texture similar to mozzarella.
If you want to visit this beautiful country and enjoy its simple but delicious gastronomy we recommend mooring your boat at Gouvia Marina, located in the city of Kontokali on Corfu Island. The restaurants in the area are opened throughout the year and will welcome you with exquisite traditional dishes like fried squid, kolokythoanthoi (fried zucchini) and loukaniko (sausages). Paroikia Marina on the island of Paros offers immediate access to the Aegean Sea and many tourist attractions, including the Byzantine church complex Panagia Ekatontapiliani. Porto Carras Marina is located in a 5-star resort close to Neos Marmaras, a tourist attraction on the Aegean coastline.
In France, the Mediterranean cuisine includes the specialties of Provence, Occitania and Corsica. Originating in Marseille, bouillabaisse is a fish stew made with at least three kinds of fish and Provencal herbs. Another local stew is the vegetable-based ratatouille, very popular among tourists for its flavors and lightness. The colorful Nicoise salad is made with local ingredients like tuna, eggs, olives and anchovies.
The cuisine of Corsica stands out due to the originality and quality of its ingredients. Introduced by the Genoese in the XVI century, chestnuts gradually replaced cereals and changed the island’s landscape. They are grown today on a large scale and used to make chestnut flour, the basis of many traditional Corsican products such as polenta and beer. The local cured meats are some of the best in the world. Pigs feed on chestnuts, giving the meat a distinctive smoky flavor.
You can feel great in Corsica at Port Bonifacio, located on the southern tip of the island. We also recommend wholeheartedly Porto Tino Rossi in the capital Ajaccio, where among many attractions you can see the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte
From the Istrian peninsula to Dubrovnik, Croatia’s 5,800 km long coastline is haven for food lovers. The local cuisine is an interesting mix between dishes with a pronounced Austro-Hungarian influence and the Mediterranean-style food of the coastline. Soup is usually served with every meal, the most popular recipes being maneštra (a word borrowed from Italian that literally means “soup”) and the fish soup with carrots and rice served in Dalmatia. You can enjoy the traditional grilled calamari (lignje najaru), cod fish with potatoes, sea spider salad and buzara, shellfish with garlic, olive oil and parsley.
To make the most of your Croatian experience we recommend the following marinas along the Adriatic coast: Mali Losinj on the western coast of Losinj island; ACI Marina Dubrovnik, located at the end of Rijeka Dubrovačka inlet and ACI Marina Palmižana on the northeastern coast of Sveti Klement island, opposite Hvar.