There are over a dozen countries that hug the Mediterranean Sea. We've selected 9 cult dishes from the region, along with hot spots around Australia where you can experience them, inspired by the winners of the 2014 I Love FOOD Awards.
Think of the Mediterranean, and Greece or Italy probably spring to mind. But there are actually over a dozen countries that hug the Mediterranean Sea and despite different cultures, their connection to the sea means there are common themes and ingredients in their cuisines. Ingredients like olive oil, fish, lentils and honey pop up time and time again. And several dishes such as baklava, hummus and burek are claimed by more than one country.
Alex Conomos shares 9 cult dishes from the region, along with hot spots around Australia.
1. Fattoush from Lebanon
Bread salad may not sound very exciting but when we’re talking about crumbled pita chips, tomato, cucumber, lemon juice, olive oil and sumac, it’s a combination full of zing and flavour. Fattoush means ‘crumbled bread’ in Arabic and is the perfect accompaniment to grilled meats and dips.
Where to try it: Byblos, Hamilton QLD
2. Shish kebab from Turkey
The word kebab or kebap refers to meat cooked over a flame. The classic shish or 'sis' kebab is made from chunks of marinated lamb or beef, sometimes with vegetables, turned over a coal fire until cooked to perfection. The resulting tender and smoky meat is a staple part of everyday cuisine in Turkey.
Where to try it: Little Istanbul, Greenway ACT
3. Shakshuka from Egypt
Shakshuka has moved beyond being a popular Israeli egg dish to being the hottest breakfast item on Australian menus over the past few years. The simple but stunning combination of tomatoes, onions and spices in a pan topped with a poached egg is delicious for any meal and best served with plenty of bread to soak up the delicious frying pan juices.
Where to try it: Shuk, Sydney NSW
4. Char-grilled octopus from Greece
One of the most recognisable sights of Greece is the line-up of large octopuses dangling from clothes lines in the streets. Once caught, the octopus is tenderised and then char-grilled with olive oil, lemon and sometimes garlic. The result is mouth-wateringly tender flesh that goes down a treat with ouzo as a part of a meze platter.
Where to try it: Manoli’s Greek Taverna, Darwin NT
5. Ful medames from Egypt
This heady mix of braised fava beans cooked with garlic, oil, lime and herbs is arguably Egypt’s most famous dish and can be traced to Pharaonic roots. Traditionally cooked overnight in a copper pot, it can be served at any meal and often has an egg added to it for breakfast.
Where to try it: AIDA Café Restaurant, Perth WA
6. Krafne from Croatia
Croatia’s answer to the doughnut is krafne – airy pillows of deep fried dough filled with jam or chocolate and dusted with icing sugar. They are especially popular during the winter festival of Carnival, acting as a good luck sign for prosperity.
Where to try it: Croatian Club, Adelaide SA
7. Tagine from Morocco
The word tagine refers to both a dish and the conical earthenware pot in which it is cooked. It’s an intensely regional dish which is traditionally cooked over coals but can also be made on a stove top or in the oven. Sweet and sour combinations, such as lamb with dates, are very popular, and the slow cooking process ensures the best flavours are extracted.
Where to try it: B’Stilla, Melbourne VIC
8. Pastizzi from Malta
Pastizzi are diamond shaped pastries made with filo and a variety of sweet and savoury fillings. They are a common street food in Malta, not to mention highly addictive and delicious. Classic fillings include ricotta and peas but we also love the sweet flavours that range from cherry to chocolate.
Where to try it: The Original Maltese Café, Sydney NSW
9. Gnocchi from Italy
In the home of pasta, gnocchi sometimes falls under the radar. It’s easy to come across bad gnocchi (tough, rubbery or soggy) and dismiss it for life. True Italian gnocchi is light-as-air and melts in the mouth and this can only be achieved when it’s made fresh daily and the dough is not overworked. We love Ristorante Da Angelo because there are two nonnas in the back making it every day.
Where to try it: Ristorante Da Angelo, Hobart TAS