“Eating together is the foundation of the cultural identity and continuity of communities throughout the Mediterranean basin. It is a moment of social exchange and communication, an aﬃrmation and renewal of family, group or community identity.”
—UNESCO, inscribing the Mediterranean Diet into the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
Sharing and enjoying food with others is a hallmark of the Mediterranean Diet, and what better way to do so than over tapas, antipasti, meze, or hors d’oeuvres—AKA, Mediterranean appetizers!
Read below and take a “tour” across the Mediterranean with us to explore the delicious small plates you can share with your family, friends, and neighbors.
Italy has a rich tradition of antipasti before the meal, perhaps even served with a small aperitivo! The appetizers you’ll ﬁnd in Italy vary from region to region. In Venice, you’ll ﬁnd the famous cicchetti bars or bacari (you could call them appetizer bars!), as you wander around the city. In Umbria, you might be served lumachelle, a delicious coiled bread with herbs and cheese, or perhaps a fried artichoke in the spring. In Tuscany and Rome, bruschetta with a variety of toppings is a favorite starter. Much farther south, Sicily is famous for its small bites and snacks, especially arancini, a ball of rice, ﬁlled with ragu or mozzarella or ham or peas, then coated with bread crumbs and fried.
Turkey and the Eastern Mediterranean
In the Eastern Mediterranean, you’ll ﬁnd a spread of meze, small dishes, to share with the table. Often vegetable and legume-based, these dishes tend to be light, communally served, and bursting with complex ﬂavors.
Chef Ana Sortun recalls her ﬁrst trip to Turkey like this:
My friend Ayfer graciously threw me a welcome lunch in the park …There were 30 amazing dishes spread out from one end of the table to the other. I tasted every single one and it was all so unfamiliar yet very rich and complex. I realized that I had tasted 30 dishes, essentially making my way through a 30-course tasting menu and I didn’t feel terrible. Even though the ﬂavors were complex, the dishes were light. This idea of food being rich but not heavy was something new for me. I’ve been hooked since that day and it has changed the way I cook forever.
Fattoush salad with mixed greens and other vegetables
Tabbouleh, an herbed salad with cracked bulgur wheat
Muhammara, a red pepper and walnut spread
Hummus, seasoned with your favorite spices and whole wheat pita for dipping
Leblebi, or roasted chickpeas. Simply toss canned chickpeas with olive oil and spices, spread them out on a sheet pan, and roast in the oven until crispy for a delicious and healthy snack.
You simply cannot visit Spain without experiencing tapas! Often, a tapa is presented to you as soon as you sit down and order a drink—perhaps a small dish of olives or marcona almonds. The word tapa means cover or lid, and originally referred to the plate of appetizers that was placed on the top of your glass of wine or beer at the bar. If you’d like to experience tapas at home, there are a wide array of dishes you can try yourself, many ﬂavored with olive oil and garlic.
In France, hors d’oeuvres range from bistro fare like salads and soups, to briny, olive-oil rich tapenades and pissaladieres (ﬂatbreads with olives and anchovies). The French Mediterranean stretches from the border of Spain to the border with Italy, and boasts some truly wonderful ways to start a meal. A cold, crisp Provencal rosé wine is a perfect accompanying aperitif.
In Greece, sharing mezethes is a way of life, an unhurried, shared experience at the table. At tavernas or at home in Greece, an entire meal might be composed of mezethes, but you can certainly borrow inspiration for your next appetizer spread.
We hope these Mediterranean appetizers will inspire your next get-together, party, or dinner shared with family and friends. Cheers!
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