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Let’s Get Regional: The Best Local Dishes Across the Mediterranean

By Marie-Antoinette Issa.

With 22 countries, 46,000 kilometres of coastline and a population of approximately 480 million spread across three continents, it is little surprise that the Mediterranean continues to serve up some of the most spectacular cuisines in the world. 

Beyond the delicious stereotypes (as perfect as pizza, paella and pain au chocolat are), some of the most magical meals of the Med are those found within the smaller regions of each nation.

Think, the tiny towns of Provence – a world away from the pomp of Paris – the less visited Aegean Islands in Greece, the coastal cities of Southern Spain, the villages of Western Croatia, bordering Bosnia and, the sleepy streets of the Italian island of Sicily.
Let’s Get Regional: The Best Local Dishes Across the Mediterranean

Our selection of the best regional Mediterranean dishes, below, will spotlight the most showstopping signature dishes in each country, showcasing both the beauty of the best local ingredients and, the often centuries-old traditions that bring them to life. 

France: Look further than the City of Love
While Paris may be renowned for its croissants and creamy pastries, venturing beyond the capital reveals a treasure trove of regional delights to entice your taste buds. 

As well as the obvious inclusions, whose name easily gives away their origins (such as Camembert - named after the village in Normandy, gratin Dauphinois - referring to the Dauphine district in southeastern France, quiche Lorraine - for the Northeastern Lorraine region and Champagne) the list of regional French dishes is both drawn out and delicious! 

Let’s Get Regional: The Best Local Dishes Across the Mediterranean
In the German and Swiss-bordering area of Alsace, visitors can indulge in choucroute garnie: sauerkraut cooked with various meats such as sausages, pork and sometimes fish, often flavoured with juniper berries and served with potatoes.

In Lyon, don't miss the opportunity to savour quenelles de brochet, delicate fish dumplings served in a creamy sauce. In the Southwest, the cassoulet reigns supreme - a hearty stew made with white beans, duck confit and Toulouse sausage. 

Nestled in the picturesque landscapes of Southern France, Provence is renowned for its rustic charm and rich cuisine. One of its standout dishes is bouillabaisse, a spectacular seafood stew made with an array of fresh fish, shellfish and aromatic herbs that exemplifies the region's commitment to using locally sourced ingredients and time-honoured cooking techniques.
Let’s Get Regional: The Best Local Dishes Across the Mediterranean

All delicious, these regional specialties showcase the diverse culinary landscape of France outside the confines of the quaint cafes along Paris’ Champ Elysee. 

Spain: Beyond Barcelona

Although paella is often considered synonymous with Spanish cuisine, each region of Espana offers its own unique culinary treasures.

In the Basque Country for example (where sunny San Sebastian is the Michelin star), it is traditional to indulge in pintxos - bite-sized tapas served on skewers or bread slices and bursting with flavour.

In Galicia, pulpo a la gallega is popular with eateries all vying to convince passers-by that their take on tender octopus seasoned with paprika, olive oil and sea salt is the best in town.
Let’s Get Regional: The Best Local Dishes Across the Mediterranean

Finally, from the vibrant streets of Seville to the sun-kissed shores of Malaga, Andalusia in Southern Spain is a paradise for food enthusiasts. One of the best examples of the depth of regional Mediterranean dishes here can be found in salmorejo - a creamy chilled soup made with tomatoes, bread, garlic and olive oil, topped with jamon and hard-boiled eggs.

Bursting with both taste and texture, this refreshing soup is a testament to the region's abundant harvests and Moorish culinary influences.

Greece: Away from Athens

Opa! Feta cheese and Kalamata olive-topped salad may be a staple of Hellenic cuisine in tavernas across the entire country. However, ‘The Land of the Gods’ is also home to a myriad of regional specialties waiting to be discovered.

On the Aegean island of Crete, guests typically savour dakos, a traditional dish made with barley rusks topped with tomatoes, feta cheese, olives and olive oil. While those sailing to Santorini should sample fava Santorinis - a creamy yellow split pea purée that's both simple and refined.
Let’s Get Regional: The Best Local Dishes Across the Mediterranean

In the Peloponnese Peninsula in Western Greece don't miss pastitsio, a hearty baked pasta dish layered with ground meat, béchamel sauce and cheese.

Finally, in contested Greek Macedonia (bordering Bulgaria to the Northeast, North Macedonia to the Northwest and Albania to the West you’re enticed to indulge in bougatsa, a flaky pastry filled with sweet custard or savoury cheese. 

Croatia: More than merely Rajika 

Crystal lakes, island-hopping teens on Contiki Tours sipping rajika and ‘Game of Thrones’ may have put Zagreb, Split and Dubrovnik on the map, respectivel, but Croatian food is a star in its own right.

Although cevapi may be its most famous epicurean export, each region also offers its own culinary gems waiting to be discovered. One such dish is peka, a slow-cooked stew featuring tender meat or seafood, vegetables and herbs, cooked under a bell-shaped lid over hot embers.

Let’s Get Regional: The Best Local Dishes Across the Mediterranean
While considered a quintessential part of Dalmatian cuisine, it’s also enjoyed in other parts of Croatia - particularly those bordering countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina. Here, it is often served at special occasions, gatherings and celebrations, capturing the essence of Croatian hospitality, the art of outdoor cooking and showcasing the rich culinary heritage of the region.

Other Croatian regions - and their dishes - worth exploring, include Istria. The peninsula in the Northeastern part of the Adriatic Sea (shared by Croatia, Slovenia and Italy), where you can indulge in fritule. Here, these small fried doughnuts are flavoured with citrus zest and brandy and often served with powdered sugar.

Slavonia is where kulen, a spicy cured sausage made with pork, garlic and paprika is one of the best regional specialties that showcases the depth of Croatian cuisine beyond the tourist hubs.

Italy: From Rome to Regional

Italy's culinary heritage extends far beyond pizza, pasta and Prosecco, excellent as they all may be! In fact, each region boasts its own culinary traditions and specialties that reflect the local culture and ingredients.

In Sicily, for example, where street food reigns supreme, both tourists and townsfolk can be spotted indulging in arancini - golden-fried rice balls stuffed with savoury fillings such as ragu, mozzarella and peas.
Let’s Get Regional: The Best Local Dishes Across the Mediterranean

Otherwise, we encourage you to explore the taste of Emilia-Romagna with a dish of cotechino Modena. This traditional sausage typically served with lentils, is a beloved specialty in the region known for its rich and hearty flavours.

Visitors to Venice should get off the gondola and tuck into Venetian baccala mantecato – a dish that consists of salted cod whipped into a creamy spread. Although salted cod is not uncommon in Italian cuisine, the preparation into a creamy spread is a regional twist.

Finally, to finish with something sweet, may we suggest sampling sfogliatella in Naples? This crispy pastry filled with sweet ricotta cheese and candied fruit truly offers a tasty insight into the diverse and delicious world of Italian cuisine and will leave you declaring ‘delizioso!’
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