The fresh seafood, the bold flavors, the carbs, it’s easy to love Mediterranean food. But when you’re at a gyro stand or your neighborhood Italian place have you ever thought about just how old some of these delicious dishes are? We’ve rounded up a few of our favorite to dive into. If you’re planning a trip to the Mediterranean any time soon, make sure these historic dishes are on your list.
Bouillabaisse (600 B.C.)
Stories say bouillabaisse started when French—from Marseilles specifically—fishermen created a hot stew on their way home to port. The recipe for this filling, savory stew hasn’t changed much over the centuries. Typically, the dish includes local seafood like monkfish, lobster, eel, sea robin, crab, common bass and weaver. To add to the seafood, this dish also contains vegetables and herbs such as parsley, tomato, onion, garlic, thyme, bay and other secret-family-recipe seasonings. Bouillabaisse is a year-round dish because it’s light enough in the summer and warm enough in the winter to keep even the most hardened fisherman happy.
Paella (9th Century)
Originally made in Valencia, Spain as a laborers’ meal, paella is a rice dish with fresh beans, snails, rabbit, chicken, shellfish and a few other ingredients. This dish is similar to the short-grain risotto made in Italy, but it is instead prepared with long-grain rice. Other ingredients include vegetables, peas and saffron spice which gives the dish its signature color. Usually, local traditions determine the exact ingredients, so you’ll find each region puts their own spin on the dish. From its humble beginnings, modern paella is served in some of the highest rated restaurants in the world. Thankfully, that means you’ll find this incredible dish at every price point.
Fresh Pasta (Late 13th Century)
Pasta has long been a staple in Italian cuisine is basically eaten today the way it was centuries ago: prepared fresh and frequently eaten with moderately few ingredients – a simple paste prepared with garlic, tomatoes and herbs. Due to pasta dough’s ability to be shaped in many different ways, pasta quickly became a staple at all levels of income. Fresh pasta is not only lighter than the boxed noodles some are used to, it’s springier, so even old favorites will seem like new discoveries. While you’ll find regional takes on multiple historic Italian dishes, in Sicily, the favorites of the people are slightly richer because their pasta normally contains beacon, olives, fried onion, garlic and anchovies.
Moussaka (Pre-13th Century, Modern Version 1920)
Thought to have been invented when the Arabs introduced eggplants to the world, Moussaka is popular in Greece, is prepared in three layers and looks like a mix between lasagna and shepherd’s pie. The bottom layer contains ingredients such as sliced eggplant deep-fried with olive oil. At the center is ground lamb mixed with tomato paste, and spices like garlic, onion, and seasonings. The upper layer ingredients depend on the taste of the chef preparing it, it is either egg sauce or béchamel (a white sauce). Add a white wine and an unforgettable view and you’ll have the same experience centuries of Greeks have enjoyed.
Mercimek Köftesi (unknown, modern version early 18th century)
These vegetarian meatballs made from lentils, bulgur and chopped vegetables are a popular Turkish appetizer. Meatballs have been part of Turkish cuisine before the 1800s. In fact, they were such a large part of Turkish culture, the King of Sweden brought back a meatball recipe after having enjoyed them during his time there. These vegetarian balls even have some carnivorous fans. They’re a must try if you’re ever in the country.
If these OG dishes have made you hungry, why not go enjoy the real thing? Start planning your own tour of the Mediterranean here.