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Cuisine from the Mediterranean

Does the Mediterranean table immediately evoke the taste of fresh, grilled fish eaten on a shaded terrace overlooking the sea? Of dishes laced with olive oil, lemon, and garlic, followed by honeyed desserts? It should, but you’ll find huge differences from one end of the region to the other, yours to discover on a most delectable gastronomic trail.

Cuisine in Turkey is a mix between Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences with a dash of African and Russian and infinitely delicious. What Turkish cooks do with vegetables defies description, as a mezze (appetizer) selection will show you: tahini-laced hummus, smoky eggplant salad and hot, crispy cheese borek, for instance. You’ll find a wide assortment of kebabs, sometimes best eaten standing up at a stall after a night out, and loads of fish and seafood along Turkey’s long coast. Your most satisfying “comfort food” could be lentil soup brightened with lemon or manti, a tiny stuffed pasta served in yogurt sauce with acidic sumac sprinkled on top. Leave room for a sampling of fabulous little pastries in the afternoon: nuts, butter, filo dough, rose water and honey do a sugary dance of delight on your palate.

With emphasis on fresh local ingredients, a pungent mix of herbs and spices and a light spattering of olive oil, food in Cyprus is essentially Mediterranean, similar to that of Greece and with a hint of the Middle East and Asia Minor. Served all over Cyprus, mezedes cover a broad range of some the best of local cuisine and can include up to 30 dishes. The feast begins with black and green olives, potato and garlic dip, taramosalata (fish roe dip), and tsatziki, all served with fresh bread and a salad. Some of the more unusual meze dishes that may include octopus in red wine, snails in tomato sauce, brains with pickled capers, kappari (capers) and moungra (pickled cauliflower). After even more small dishes come the kebabs, lamb chops and chicken. As a finish, fresh fruit or the traditional preserved fruit glyko, found in every home and the first thing to be offered to a guest.

Greece claims to havefour simple keys to its gastronomic success: good quality fresh ingredients, correct use of herbs and spices, the famous Greek olive oil and simplicity. Greek olive oil deserves a mention because it accompanies almost all Greek dishes and is of such excellent quality. The Greek climate eliminates the need for greenhouses so the vegetables all get to grow outside, just like in the old days, and you can taste the difference. Fruits, such as grapes, apricots, peaches, cherries, melons, and watermelons are equally flavorful. The amazing aroma of fresh oregano, thyme, mint and rosemary in many dishes will mesmerize you. The Aegean and Ionian Seas are crystal clear and rich with fish that are a little bit of heaven when they’re grilled fresh from the water and served up simply.

Italy has been settled for centuries, with the Greeks bringing their culinary acumen to what became the Roman Empire, which in turn spread all over Europe. Catherine de’Medici is famous for, among other things, bringing Italian gastronomic customs to the French court in the 16th century, many of which are part of today’s dining habits – such as the use of forks!

Combine a Mediterranean island with the influences of multiple settlers and invaders and you get the rustic and satisfying cuisine of Malta. Well-laced with African and Italian influences, local dishes feature fish and small game, sheep’s cheese, olives, garlic and fresh herbs. Try specialties such as bragioli or “beef olives: actually a tasty stuffed steak, or widow’s soup, with its small round of goat cheese. When fish is in abundance, you’ll find aljotta (fish soup). Holidays and village festivals have dishes all their own, such as almond stuffed pastry figures at Easter called figolli, Christmas honey rings and sweet street foods like date pastries and nougat.

Italy has always been a synonym for "good food," offering an e explosion of flavors, scents, and aromas. Aside from having one of the most famous cuisines, it also proposes an immense variety of different regional dishes and recipes. World renowned products such as Parmigiano Reggiano (cheese, Parma and San Daniele ham, Modena balsamic vinegar, Genoa's pesto, buffalo mozzarella from Campania, Alba truffles, and cured meats are just some of the symbols that make Italy the land of good food. And how could anyone forget pasta and pizza, universal synonyms for Italy?

Cooking in Spain varies so much by region that you’ll just have to eat all around the country to discover the magnificent specialties of each one. For sure you’re going to want to while away an evening trying authentic Spanish tapas, the ultimate in elegant bar snacks heaven servings of savory snacks such as chorizo, olives, and marinated shrimp or spiced cheese. Taste a tortilla, a potato omelet that must be the original comfort food, or fragrant paella glowing with saffron for seafood lovers. The dried hams of Serrano are legendary as are the squid dishes of Cantabria. Discover the thousand flavors of rice in Spain on the Mediterranean coast…but don’t forget to sightsee between meals.

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