What are the practical and social rituals associated with the Mediterranean cuisine?
Because of the high levels of mid-day heat of many regions in the Mediterranean, it is often traditional to have a light, carbohydrate-based breakfast, to take a nap during the heat of the day, and to consume the main meal after the sun has set. There is an intense communal aspect and centrality to food in the culture. Especially in Greek and Italian cuisine, extended family and friends is the focus of the family. It is characteristic of the Greek and Italian people "to celebrate their joys, to sweeten their sorrows, and to assuage their struggles by eating and drinking in the company of family and friends." (Alexiadou, 2005) In desert cultures, hospitality to strangers as a way of surviving the harsh desert, often involving lavish entertaining is an important part of the culture.
Fasts and feasting, associated with religion, are commonly practiced, such as fasting during the holy month of Ramadan for Turkish and Algerian Muslims, or for Orthodox Greeks who eat specific foods on fasting days during the year depending on the season, such as Lent. Roman Catholics obey Lent as well, at a different period of the year, usually, since the Roman and Orthodox Easters do not always correspond, and have different favored foods, such as the red eggs in Greece that mark the festival, and the sugar cookies and cakes of Italy. (Alexiadou, 2005)
What are the ingredients, seasoning, styles, and cooking procedures attributable to the Mediterranean region?
Heavily spiced foods are common as preservatives in warmer regions, and as a way of making bland or tough meats more interesting to the palate. For example, Kavurma is still a favorite in Turkey. This is a dish of small cubes of meat cooked in its own fat, salted, stored in large earthenware containers, and eaten in the winter months. Pastirma, a preserved meat, was salted and spiced and dried in the sun in Turkey. In the region as a whole, olive oil predominates over butter, and honey over sugar in desserts, although in Northern Italy, butter and creme sauces, and more meats such as veal come to the foreground of the cuisine. Cumin, coriander, cinnamon, mustard, pepper, and saffron are the foremost spices used in the hottest regions of Turkey, Greece, and the Arab Mediterranean world, along with parsley, mint leaves, onions, and garlic. In Greece, when meat lamb is eaten, it is often prepared roasted over an open wood or charcoal fire whole, or in Turkey, as kebabs. Slow-roasting pots of meats and vegetables, so there is always food prepared for a potential visitor is another common feature of desert, nomadic, and Arab preparation that has been incorporated into the cuisine of many nations. (Illium & Kaufman, 2005)
In Italy, of course, the varieties of preparations of pastas and breads dominate the famed Italian cuisine are most familiar to Americans, although it is worthy of note that often regionally and within the nation, there is less dominance of red sauces, and a greater featuring of smaller dishes of pasta with a variety of ingredients. French influences of sauteing meats and fishes has resulted in a number of innovations of the local cuisines, while the act of pressing olive oils and using oils in baking has in turn influenced other European cuisines.
Alexiadou, Vefa. (2005) "Greek Food and Tradition." Retrieved 12 Oct 2005 http://www.yasou.org/food/FandTrad.htm
Barry, Colleen. (2005) Cheshire Medical Serivces. Retrieved 12 Oct 2005 http://www.cheshire-med.com/services/dietary/nutrinew/mediter.html
'Best of Sicily" (2005) Best of Sicily. Retrieved 12 Oct 2005
Illium & Kaufman. History of Turkish Cuisine. Gourmet. Retrieved 12 Oct 2005 http://www.gourmet.gr/mediterranean-diet/show.asp?gid=9& nodeid=77& arid=7087
"Mediterranean Diet." (2005) American Heart Association (AHA). Retrieved 12 Oct 2005