Do you like Mediterranean food?
You’re out for a night on the town about to grab dinner with friends? Everyone is on their phones pulling up Yelp to find the best local restaurant. It’s probably safe to say that the only Mediterranean food you’ve tried is gyros or souvlaki. While these are both fantastic dishes there are so many other amazing recipes that often go under the radar. In this article, we’re going to take you on a little culinary trip to try out some of the very best flavors. Prepare yourself for loads of grilled veggies, mouth-watering meats, and plenty of carbs. We hope you came hungry.
About Mediterranean Food
Most people don’t realize how diverse Mediterranean food is. Due to influence from a variety of cultures and peoples throughout its history, the result is a myriad of flavors and ingredients, some of which you might not expect. The history of this cuisine dates as far back as the third and fourth centuries A.D. However, the concept of distinctive Mediterranean food is fairly new, dating back to around 1950.
Clearly, the concept of Mediterranean food originated in the geographic region near the Mediterranean Sea. Here, olive trees grow in abundance and spices are highly valued to preserve goods and bring out the flavor. As a result, both are widely used throughout different recipes. Olive oil is produced, distributed, and sold around the world for use in traditional Mediterranean food. You will find that there are three core ingredients used in many of these dishes. They are: wheat, olives, and grapes.
Since the Mediterranean is home to an abundance of olive trees, it would only make sense that olive oil would be used in abundance. Luckily for travelers, olive oil is actually good for you. It’s free of hydrogenated oils (aka unhealthy trans fats). So feel free to use it often in cooking. It also works as a great addition for salad dressing and pasta, adding a bold and distinctive flavor to the dishes.
When it comes to wheat, pasta and couscous are the main ways it is incorporated into the cuisine. Grapes are used most often in the production of fine wine. Dried grapes are used like raisins in bread or a simple snack to munch on before a big meal. Don’t just put the grapes into one category though. The Mediterranean produces a wide variety of grapes that offer various flavors ranging from subtle to bold.
Okay, we have to start you off with the dish everyone knows. We’re sure you’ve tried the gyro (pronounced YEE-roh). And if we’re wrong… Well, it’s time you got on board. So what does it taste like? It all depends on where you get them. We prefer the ones that aren’t loaded in salt and grease, so unless you’re traveling to Greece where the street food is amazing, we recommend going somewhere a little bit nicer.
The meat used in gyros is typically roasted on a rotisserie, giving it a nice, grilled taste. There’s something about roasting in this way that seems to bring out all of the juices and flavors. To serve the meat, a special shaver is used, pulling from top to bottom. While some travelers love to eat the meat entirely on its own, we prefer it with everything (aka sandwich style). Wrap the meat up in a tasty pita and feel free to add whatever veggies you’d like. Tomatoes, onions, and at times warm fries are placed inside.
2. Hummus with Baba Ganoush
Did you know that the word hummus actually means ‘chickpea’ in Arabic? Because of the massive amount of chickpeas that grow in the Mediterranean, this dish became a phenomenon. While you’ve certainly tried hummus too, it’s entirely different with baba ganoush. Typical hummus is made up of ground chickpeas, tahini (a paste made from sesame seed oil), olive oil, and spices. Baba ganoush uses eggplants as the base instead of chickpeas.
Hungry yet? Here’s another delicious dish made with skewered meat. Seasoned and grilled to perfection, kebabs come with a variety of veggies. The most common meat of choice to use is lamb. However, it is also common to use chicken, beef, or even fish. Our favorite way to eat it is with a side of warm pita bread. Yum.
Have you ever tried dolma before? Coming from the Turkish word “to be stuffed,” you’ll see it makes a lot of sense. Most commonly, dolma is made from stuffed grape leaves. Eggplants, bell peppers, and tomatoes are popular to use as well. The fillings inside are typically made from rice or meat seasoned with spices, topped with grilled onions, and cooked with plenty of olive oil.
Okay, now we are getting into the types of Mediterranean food dishes you have probably never heard of before. This delicious sweet bread is the type of food that’s made to make your mouth water. Whenever you’re having a sweet tooth craving, carb craving, buttery craving, or all of the above, this should be your go-to. The outside has a semi-dry texture and is topped with sesame seeds. Inside, you’ll find the buttery, flaky goodness that makes this treat so popular among Middle Eastern cuisine. Want to know our favorite way to eat it? Try some choereg straight out of the oven when it’s golden brown and perfectly warm. Let us know what you think. We’ll wait.
One of the most famous types of Mediterranean food, baklava comes in many different forms. Traditional baklava is filled with a sweet walnut paste mixture layered between flaky phyllo dough that’s been soaked with loads of butter (are you sensing a theme here?) and a bit of syrup. If you’re interested in changing it up, there are plenty of options to do just that. Try eating baklava with different nuts like pistachios and cutting the pastries up into different shapes. We would suggest eating them without syrup but where is the fun in that?
Vegetarians, we’ve found your new favorite food. It’s come in the form of falafel. Unfortunately, we come with good news and bad news. Just because falafel is a vegetarian dish doesn’t make it healthy. If you make your own, there’s an option for that. But in the form of traditional Mediterranean food, it often comes deep fried. These delicious little balls are made from chickpeas, herbs, onions, and spices. If you’re looking for a more healthy way to eat them, use pure olive oil instead of canola oil and avoid frying them in breadcrumbs. There are plenty of gluten-free alternatives to falafel too.
This is a delicious, versatile side dish that can go with just about anything. The next time you’re having friends over for dinner and trying to cook up something exotic, remember you can whip up some pilaf. It’s easy to make, delicious, and filling. What could be a better combination? Sometimes the most simple forms of food are the best. The same goes for Mediterranean food. While we’ve all eaten some form of pilaf at one point or another (no, Uncle Ben’s ready rice does not count), you probably don’t know what the authentic stuff has in it.
Pilaf is made fried and cooked in a spiced broth. If you want to kick the flavor up a notch, there are plenty of yummy additions to use. Add in spices, pieces of grilled meat, and even nuts and pieces of fruit. There are so many variations you can make with it. This dish is one that even the pickiest of eaters can enjoy.
9. Pita Bread
There’s no way you don’t know what pita bread is. And if you say you really don’t know, we’re judging you a little. This thin piece of bread has a pocket in the middle - perfect for filling it full of savory meats, juicy vegetables, and creamy sauces. Of all the types of Mediterranean food on our list, this is perhaps the most fundamental. Pita goes with anything. Use it as an easy to throw together sandwich on the go, dip it in hummus, or eat it by itself.
Omnivore pizza lovers, you’ve found your perfect dish in lahmajoun. This thin round piece of dough is topped off with a thin layer of beef, bell peppers, and onions. Don’t forget those spices too. If you want to keep the flavor as fresh as possible, add a little bit of lemon juice in there. Many people know it by the nickname Armenian pizza, even though there is no cheese included in it.
For those of you who are interested in enjoying a vegetarian version of lahmajoun, they are just as tasty. Simply make it with the same ingredients for the spread and then top it off with fresh herbs or veggies. It’s your choice.
Now we’re getting into some of the more hearty dishes. Consider moussaka something like the lasagna of Mediterranean food. We’ve got to say Greek food is some of our favorite types of cuisine. This oven-baked dish includes layers of meat and veggies topped off with a special bechamel sauce. Eggplants and potatoes are stacked with ground beef, onions, tomatoes, spices, and a drizzle of red wine. This is followed by another layer of eggplants, then some more bechamel sauce, and cheese.
Cheese is no doubt one of the best snacks on the planet. Mediterranean food makes the most of its creamy goodness in the form of spanakopita and boreg. Both foods use the flaky, delicious phyllo dough that we have been talking about. This dough is soaked in butter and use to layer and wrap the delicious filling. Spanakopita includes spinach in the cheese filling, whereas boreg does not. We recommend trying out one of each. Why not sample your way through the best of the cuisine?
When you’re in the mood for something light and refreshing, these mixed green salads are just the thing. Tabouleh is a delicious blend of parsley, bulgur grain, onions, lemon juice, tomatoes, and olive oil. Like hummus, pita bread, and rice pilaf, it is a great side addition to the main course. This type of Mediterranean food combines so many different textures, an earthy flavor, and a little bit of zestiness.
This is the sauce that makes the world go round. Seriously. We could put it on everything. Tzatziki sauce is good with kebabs, gyros, falafel, pita bread, you name it. Trust us. You’ll never really be able to get enough. A Greek yogurt-based sauce, it incorporates cucumber, dill, lemon juice, and olive oil.
Plan Your Trip and Indulge in the Best Types of Mediterranean Food
Mediterranean food is incredibly diverse. With so many tasty dishes and drinks to choose from, it was hard to narrow down my list to the top picks. While you’re there, make sure to sample as many dishes as you can. Seek out authentic places to try the dishes. Ask for the local’s recommendations. Or when you’re feeling creative, put your culinary abilities to the test and try to cook up some Mediterranean food recipes on your own. If you're looking for more places to visit, check out our picks for the best places to travel.
We hope you enjoyed reading our article of the best Mediterranean food to try. Now, it’s time for a taste test. While you can certainly try your hand at these recipes at home, we recommend the real deal. Even from this simple list, it's easy to see that cuisine is incredibly diverse. This food is incredibly diverse. It's time to visit the Mediterranean. Make sure to read up before your trip and travel smart. P.S, If you're looking to visit Greece or Italy, feel free to pick our brain. We've got you covered.
Related Article: Top 12: The Best Day Trips From Rome