Mediterranean cuisine holds a special place in the hearts and taste buds of food enthusiasts around the world. Its rich history and cultural significance have helped preserve the unique nature of the Mediterranean region. Spanning across Southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, the Mediterranean basin has been a birthplace and cradle of Western civilisation.
Within this vast region, Spain stands out as a culinary powerhouse, offering a remarkable array of Mediterranean dishes that reflect its historical and cultural heritage. Here are a few notable points about the expansive implications of this special diet in Spain.
The Mediterranean diet has gained international recognition for its health benefits and delicious flavours. A notable study that cemented the diet’s reputation was the PREDIMED Study, a randomised control trial conducted in Spain. The study, funded by the Spanish government’s Instituto de Salud Carlos III and others, aimed to confirm the observational data suggesting that following a Mediterranean diet lowers the risk of heart disease. The results were so compelling that the study authors decided to halt the study prematurely, as it seemed unfair to deprive the control group of the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. The findings revealed that among individuals at high cardiovascular risk, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events by an impressive 30%.
There is in fact, a long-standing tradition of Mediterranean cuisine in Spain, influenced by the abundance of local ingredients and the country’s historical connections. The introduction of foods from the New World, such as peppers, tomatoes, beans, potatoes, corn, and chocolate, has left an indelible mark on Spanish gastronomy.
Spanish cookbook authors emphasise the importance of using locally available ingredients. Penelope Casas, renowned author of cookbooks like “The Food and Wines of Spain,” underscores this point. In Mediterranean diets, fresh fruits, vegetables, bread, potatoes, nuts, and beans form the foundation of daily meals. The primary source of fat is olive oil, which contains monounsaturated fats known as “good fats” that do not raise blood cholesterol levels like saturated and trans fats do. Fish, rich in omega-3 oils, is consumed several times a week, believed to reduce the risk of heart disease. Meat and poultry are enjoyed in moderation, reflecting a balanced approach to dietary choices.
Two notable cold soups hailing from the southern region of Andalusia are Gazpacho and Salmorejo. Gazpacho, mentioned in ancient Greek and Roman literature, has evolved to incorporate tomatoes and peppers brought to Spain from the New World in the 16th century. Salmorejo, closely resembling Gazpacho, features a tomato base, while Gazpacho leans more towards pepper and onion flavours. Another variation of Gazpacho is Ajo Blanco, traditionally made with almonds.
When asked about their favourite foods, many Spaniards will undoubtedly mention eggs and potatoes. Penelope Casas aptly expressed this sentiment, stating that if a Spaniard were exiled to a remote island and allowed only one food, eggs would likely be their choice. Potatoes, introduced from South America in the 16th century, have become a staple in the Spanish diet. A classic dish found in every restaurant across the country is the Tortilla Española, a potato omelette. This familiar and comforting dish is commonly served at tapas bars, which we will delve into later.
Spain’s Mediterranean coast is home to enchanting destinations like Catalonia, the Valencian Community, and Murcia. These regions offer not only breathtaking landscapes and inviting beaches but also an opportunity to indulge in the local gastronomy. Spanish cuisine, with its Mediterranean roots, has garnered worldwide acclaim, and savouring traditional dishes in the very place where they are cooked adds a special touch to the dining experience.