Mediterranean food is adored worldwide. The cuisine is widely praised for its healthy fats and prevention of cardiovascular disease, with plenty of minimally processed meats, healthy oils, fresh vegetables, and herbs and spices. Mediterranean recipes are so popular that they are now recreated in most corners of the world. However, they stem from three culinary regions; Southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.
25 Traditional Mediterranean Dishes
Mediterranean food might have adapted and spread globally, but we’ll explore the most traditional versions of the best Mediterranean dishes. Whether you want to try recreating a dish at home or are planning to visit the Mediterranean region, this guide will cover the best traditional Mediterranean dishes you need to try.
1. Greek Salad, aka Horiatiki
Greek salad is a classic Mediterranean dish, and Greek food is one of the most famous Mediterranean cuisines. It is the perfect summer salad, with fresh flavors and a delicious drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. You’ll typically find chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, onion, black olives, and either crumbled feta cheese or a thick slice of feta cheese perched on top of the rest of the salad. The extra virgin olive oil neutralizes the acidity of the onion, and you might also find a sprinkling of oregano for an aromatic added flavor.
When the Greek salad was truly invented is a bit of a mystery. The version of the salad we know and love today was created by tavern owners in Plaka between 1960 and 1970. However, adaptions of the recipe have been used for centuries. Greece is one of the leading producers of the world’s olives and has been growing olive trees since Ancient Greece. The Mediterranean climate is perfect for growing olives and fresh vegetables all year round.
2. Pizza Margherita
The Margherita pizza needs little introduction. The pizza is somewhat of a national dish of Italy, which is fitting considering it was patriotically invented in honor of Queen Margherita in 1889. Its three toppings even represent the Italian flag, with white mozzarella, green basil leaves, and red tomato. It goes without saying that the Margherita pizza is one of the most iconic dishes in all of the Mediterranean countries.
Margherita pizza served the Mediterranean way, is uncut and eaten with a knife and fork. Like most of the famous Mediterranean recipes, though, the Margherita pizza and its eating etiquette have been adapted worldwide – so you’ll find this varies depending on where you try the dish. The crispy dough and gooey cheese are a winning combination. You won’t struggle to sample a Margherita pizza wherever you go.
3. Moroccan Tagine
A Moroccan tagine is exactly the warming, hearty dish that you want after a long day. Cooked slowly in a conical-shaped dish over a smoldering fire, the Moroccan tagine is one of the best Mediterranean recipes for slow cooking. Traditionally, the tagine is a meat dish, using rough-cut chunks of lamb or chicken. However, you will also find vegetable tagines, which use ingredients like potatoes, carrots, and onions. The ingredients are cooked in a thick, paste-like broth, and flavored with spices like cumin, paprika, and turmeric.
It is thought that tagine was invented in the 8th century in the Islamic empire, but there is some controversy over whether it was invented in North Africa in Morocco itself. Either way, it is a staple dish in the Mediterranean diet and one of the most popular Mediterranean recipes. The version of tagine as we know it has been carved and influenced over centuries in Morocco.
Speaking of staples in a Mediterranean diet, moussaka is a delicious eggplant-based dish hugely popular in modern Mediterranean cuisine. It looks a little like a lasagna with a thick bechamel sauce topping. Many people suggest that it is a Greek version of Italian lasagna. While there’s no historical accuracy to this, it is a helpful comparison to help you picture the dish. Moussaka uses layers of eggplant or potato instead of pasta sheets, with a rich tomato sauce and often ground meat, like lamb, between each layer. Moussaka is comfort food through and through – perfect for a hearty meal.
Early versions of moussaka can be dated back to around the 13th century, although the exact date of invention is unknown. The moussaka eaten today is a Greek version of an Arabic dish, which most likely was originally an Arabic eggplant stew. The dish has evolved a lot since its early days. Of course, now, you’ll find moussaka across Greece, Turkey, and Middle Eastern Mediterranean countries. You can also replicate the dish quite easily at home.
5. Armenian Losh
Armenian losh is a mixture of half-ground lamb and half-ground beef. The meat is mixed with finely chopped white onion, herbs, and spices, including fresh herbs like parsley. Packed into little balls, Armenian losh can be eaten as burgers or in a kebab. The little meat patties are then grilled and served alongside rice pilaf and salad drizzled with olive oil. You may also find onions fried and served as a side. Armenian losh is a great street food or barbecue dish for you to try.
The history of Armenian losh is unknown, but the recipe has existed for centuries in adapted forms. The meat and herbs combination is typical of a Mediterranean diet, and the kebab style of eating Armenian losh is highly typical of the Eastern Mediterranean region.
Who doesn’t love gyros? The delicious pita sandwiches with tzatziki sauce are popular street food and one of the most sought-after Mediterranean recipes. Gyros are typically meat dishes, with lamb, beef, or chicken cut in slices off a vertical rotisserie. However, you can also get vegetarian alternatives, most of which use halloumi cheese or feta cheese instead of meat. Add tomato, onion, fried potatoes, and the all-important ingredient tzatziki sauce for meat and vegetarian options. The result is sublime, and the tzatziki adds a refreshing, neutralizing flavor to balance the mix of other flavors.
The gyro we know and love today is thought to have originated in 1922 with an influx of refugees into Greece. The recipe existed for centuries in other forms, though. It is closely related to shawarma, which was invented in the 18th or 19th century.
Tabouli is a flavorsome dish from the Middle East known for its intense, delicious flavors. The salad dish is a dense mixture of finely cut fresh parsley, mint, and bulgur wheat, drenched in lemon juice and olive oil and mixed with tomatoes. It is one of the best dishes that includes whole grains and is typically eaten as a mezze dish. However, tabouli in a piece of pita bread is lunch in itself.
Tabouli originated in Lebanon and Syria and is a staple salad in an Eastern Mediterranean diet. Tabouli has been around for a long time; experts think it could trace back to the Middle Ages. The dish packs a punch and quickly became famous for its zesty taste and health benefits. You can recreate the salad at home, but sampling it in Lebanon or a local restaurant would be the best way to try it. Luckily, you won’t have to look far since Lebanese cuisine has become widely popular around the globe.
8. Black Eyed Peas Salad
Firstly, black-eyed peas are a legume, not a pea. The small beans have a black dot, which gives them their name, and are massively popular in Mediterranean cuisine. There are a few recipes that incorporate black-eyed peas. Still, the most traditional Mediterranean dish is the black-eyed peas salad. The salad consists of diced cucumber, finely chopped tomato, cooked and drained black-eyed peas, pomegranate, thinly sliced onion, and mint leaves. As an extra bonus, some recipes include feta cheese as well.
Black-eyed peas are native to Africa and are a sub-species of cowpea. The beans have been eaten since the Middle Ages. They are a staple Mediterranean food, now used in many dishes worldwide.
Shakshuka is a simple one-pot recipe from North Africa and one of the most traditional dishes in Mediterranean cuisine. The dish is quickly recognized by its poached eggs. It is uniquely baked by mixing a tomato sauce (with extra ripe tomatoes) with spices, fresh herbs, and extra virgin olive oil. The eggs are poached by pouring them directly into the mixture and serve as the final decorative touches.
The dish is thought to have originated in the 16th century, and many people believe that it was a Tunisian creation. It became quickly popular for being low-cost, healthy, and super easy to make since it only required one pot. Shakshuka is a fun recipe to try at home and is designed to be enjoyed in a family environment.
Chances are, you’ve heard of falafel. The little patties are a hugely popular Middle Eastern dish. In fact, they are so popular that they’ve spread out across the world, past other Mediterranean countries, and into countries like the USA and UK. Falafel is considered a vegetarian alternative to traditional meat dishes like kebabs. However, in the Mediterranean, the dish is eaten as part of a mezze.
Falafel is made from ground chickpeas and often broad beans. Crushed into little ball shapes, the falafels are then deep-fried and served in a group. A collection of bite-sized falafels are perfect for snacking or eating a mezze platter. And while their history is disputed, the general consensus is that falafels originated in Egypt. Some records suggest that falafel was eaten as far back as Ancient Egypt and the Roman era.
Speaking of chickpeas, hummus is another delicious side dish that uses ground chickpeas. One of the most popular dishes in Eastern Mediterranean cuisine, hummus is a thick, silky texture and is mainly used as a dip. The ground chickpeas are mixed with tahini and flavored with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice, creating a mild but slightly tangy flavor.
Like falafel, hummus dates back to ancient Egypt but has a disputed origin story. It is widely considered a Middle Eastern Mediterranean dish, but where exactly it was created is a mystery. Now, you can find it in supermarkets all around the world. But we recommend trying it homemade at a restaurant or in your kitchen.
Paella, who doesn’t know and love this dish? This is one of the most famed Mediterranean recipes and originates from Spain. Seafood is a massive part of the Mediterranean diet, and paella caters to seafood lovers. The dish consists of short-grained rice cooked in a risotto style with stock and tomato-based sauce, with seafood like prawns, mussels, and even octopus accompanying it. Peas and a slice of lemon are usually served with paella, and you might also find vegetables added to the dish.
Paella was created in Valencia around the 10th century. It gets its name from the pan it is cooked in, which is shallow to allow the rice to cook in a thin layer. Paella was popular for using up leftover rice and also for serving large groups of people at celebrations and gatherings. It remains a social dish, and its big serving size is perfect for sharing.
13. Mediterranean Wine
The Mediterranean area is revered for its wine production. The region has the perfect climate to produce local wines. It is considered one of the most versatile wine regions in the world. Italy, Spain, and Southern France are well known for their wines. While each country has cultural differences in wine etiquette and production, wine is a wonderful part of all Mediterranean culture.
Wine has been produced for thousands of years, and exactly where it was created remains a hot topic. What we do know, though, is that it was drunk frequently in Ancient Rome and in countries like Georgia as far back as 9000 BC. Nowadays, Mediterranean wine is one of the most exported goods from the region, and wine tasting is a highly sought-after activity in many Mediterranean countries.
Risotto is a hearty, salt-of-the-earth type of Mediterranean food. The Mediterranean diet contains a lot of carbohydrates, and rice is a popular ingredient. Risotto is a creamy, thick rice dish slowly cooked in a vegetable or meat stock broth. Typically, the rice is cooked briefly in butter to give it a rich, buttery flavor. It is then slowly cooked in broth, added bit by bit to allow as much flavor absorption as possible. To finish, grated parmesan is the ultimate final touch.
Risotto originated in Northern Italy, and cookbooks dating back to the 18th century show risotto recipe adaptations. If you visit Italy, risotto is one of the best traditional Italian foods to sample. And if you want to master a staple dish at home, risotto is a rewarding dish to learn to cook. Just be prepared to practice your patience in adding the broth in such tiny amounts. Slow and steady wins the race.
15. Caldo Verde
Caldo Verde is a medicinal dish in Mediterranean cuisine. The soup packs a super health punch with kale, cabbage, onion, garlic, and a dash of olive oil. It comes in a green color that even looks healthy and is a popular soup when you are unwell and for celebrations as a light meal. It is usually served alongside rye bread and is excellent for dipping.
Caldo Verde is a Portuguese soup that was invented in the Minho Province in the 15th century. The delicious soup has been adapted a little over the years but has essentially stayed the same. You might find that different people have their own versions of the recipe in Portugal, as it is such a household dish.
16. Kofta Kebab
Kofta kebabs are one of the main meat dishes in Middle Eastern Mediterranean cuisine. The minced meat can be beef, chicken, or mutton and is served in long balls skewered on kebabs. The meat is mixed with herbs and spices and has a barbequed, fragrant quality. If you are looking for Mediterranean street food, a kofta kebab is a great choice.
Kofta kebabs originated in Persian, and early cookbooks and food history trace them back to the 13th century. It’s safe to say that kofta meat has been around for a long time, and a kofta kebab is one of the tastiest Eastern Mediterranean foods. Sample a kofta kebab with a tzatziki or garlic sauce for the yummiest experience.
17. Caprese Salad
A Caprese salad is another classic Mediterranean food. Simple but mouthwateringly delicious, this Italian creation consists of salted sliced tomatoes and mozzarella arranged in an ornate circle on a serving plate. Basil leaves are scattered over the dish, and quite often, you’ll have balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil drizzled over the salad.
Like the Margherita pizza, a Caprese salad is a patriotic dish and contains the three colors of the Italian flag. This patriotic importance is central to its creation story, as it was made in 1920 in post-World War 1 Italy. This dish was served at the Hotel Quisisana, and it spread across Italy very quickly as a new favorite dish.
A Caprese salad is easy to replicate at home, and you don’t need to travel all the way to Capri to try it (although if you can, you definitely should). It is a refreshing, healthy light snack – perfectly enjoyed mid-afternoon on a summer’s day.
Lasagne is one of the oldest pasta dishes in Mediterranean cuisine. This Mediterranean food is recreated all over the globe, and the layered dish is revered as a staple family meal. If you have ever dabbled in Mediterranean cooking, lasagne is probably one of the recipes that you’ve already cooked.
Lasagne typically uses a chunky tomato sauce and either minced meat or vegetables between pasta layers. Herbs and spices like oregano, basil, and garlic are added to the mix. The cooking process then involves stacking layer upon layer before cooking the dish in the oven. Often, cheese is grated on top for an extra layer. The recipe is tried and tested, you could say since it has been around since the times of the Ancient Romans. Lasagne is even mentioned in early Roman writings.
19. Grilled Swordfish with Lemon
As you know, fish is a staple food in many Mediterranean countries and has lots of healthy fats that form a healthy diet. Fishing is a massive part of the Mediterranean culture too, and the Mediterranean Sea has a lot of different fish on offer – including swordfish. Grilled swordfish is a popular dish in Greek cuisine, and swordfish is so meaty that it is often referred to as a fish steak.
The fish is seared and cooked on the grill, either marinated in lemon before for an intense flavor or drizzled in lemon juice after for a more sauce-like effect. Traditional fish dishes have the fish served separately and whole as a statement piece. It is common for fish to be served alongside a salad, especially olives. You can also request chips on the side if you want a more modern twist.
You can trace fishing back to before the Middle Ages in the Mediterranean. Fish have been a part of the Mediterranean diet for most of documented history, and this swordfish dish is a great way to sample seafood ‘the Mediterranean way’.
20. Stuffed Vine Leaves
Stuffed vine leaves (aka dolmas) are one of the most typical Turkish dishes and a hugely popular Mediterranean food. The dish is an appetizer or mezze and consists of stuffed vine leaves, a byproduct of all that grape production. Dolmas can be vegetarian or meat-filled. The standard ingredients are rice and tiny, diced cubes of onion, which minced meat can then be added to. The filling is then neatly wrapped in little parcels using vine leaves and eaten as a whole. It is one of the tastiest Mediterranean recipes, and if you like Turkish cuisine, it is a must-try.
Stuffed vine leaves date back as far as the 15th century and was frequently enjoyed amongst royalty in the Ottoman Empire. The tasty dish quickly spread and very soon became enjoyed all over the Middle East and eventually the rest of the world. You’ll find stuffed vine leaves at Turkish restaurants, but there’s no better place to try the dish than in Turkey. Keep them in mind if you plan a visit.
21. Shish Tawook
Shish Tawook is a variation of a shish kebab, a very famous Mediterranean food served in kebab shops all over the world. It consists of chicken meat served on a skewer, and ‘shish’ means skewer in Turkish. The chicken meat is marinated in a mixture of lemon juice, garlic, and yogurt. It is then chopped into rough chunks and grilled on its skewer. Shish Tawook is an excellent barbeque dish and street food you can find in most corners of the world.
The actual birthplace of Shish Tawook is unknown. While the modern version of the dish originated in Turkey, kebab eat has existed across the Middle East for centuries. Like falafel, it is a bit of a ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg’ situation. Since so many Middle Eastern countries had kebab meat centuries ago, it is difficult to determine which country had it first.
22. Foul Mudammas
Foul Mudammas is a tasty, warming stew that uses fava beans as a primary ingredient with warm spices and fresh herbs like parsley. Fava beans are a popular breakfast food in the Middle East. You can often find foul Mudammas eaten as a savory breakfast dish at the start of the day.
Foul Mudammas might be known as a Lebanese breakfast these days, but the dish originated in Egypt. The dish can be traced back to Ancient Egypt, so it is safe to say that it has been around for a long time. There was even a discovery of a collection of fava beans unearthed during an archeological dig at a Neolithic site. Foul Mudammas is one of the most traditional dishes in Mediterranean cuisine, and fava beans are a historical part of the Mediterranean diet.
23. Pickled Turnips
Pickled turnips are a tasty part of Lebanese cuisine and are often served as a mezze dish. If you haven’t seen them before, they are incredibly striking to look at and are long slices of bright pink, mysterious-looking vegetable. Looking at them, you probably wouldn’t guess that they are turnips. They have a slightly vinegary taste, but the parsnip’s somewhat sweet, mild taste balances the vinegar out. You can eat them at any time of day, and they are a typical dish to spot in Lebanese restaurants.
Pickled turnips might sound like a random part of Mediterranean cuisine. However, pickled vegetables are a common way of preserving and stockpiling scarce produce. The method has been used for centuries using solutions like vinegar or brine. Most recently in modern history, pickling vegetables was used to preserve food during World War II rations in the 1940s.
24. Egyptian Fried Boiled Eggs
Egyptian fried, boiled eggs are another one of our most unusual Mediterranean recipes. This dish is a must-try, though, and high in protein which makes it a healthy food to try. The process starts with hard-boiled eggs, peeled and transferred into a searing hot pan to fry with a bit of ghee or butter. Egyptian fried, boiled eggs are served alongside a salad, which typically includes cucumber, tomatoes, olives, and occasionally feta cheese.
Egyptian fried, boiled eggs are commonly eaten during holidays. However, while the dish is considered a traditional meal in the Mediterranean, it can also be traced to Asian cuisine. Legend has it that Thailand has a much less celebratory story behind this dish. In Thailand, the dish is called son-in-law eggs (kai look keuy). It’s said that a mother prepared the eggs for her son-in-law as a bit of dark humor to suggest she might castrate him if he didn’t start treating her daughter better.
25. Stuffed Bell Peppers
Like stuffed vine leaves, stuffed bell peppers are part of the dolmas foods – a family of stuffed dishes eaten worldwide, especially in the Mediterranean. Stuffed bell peppers are one of the tastiest dishes and are usually packed with rice, vegetables, beans, and sometimes meat. The final touch is a layer of cheese, which melts as the stuffed bell peppers are cooked. Stuffed bell peppers are quick and easy to prepare and have a reputation as a healthy comfort food – what more could you want?
You’ll find stuffed peppers in Turkey, Tunisia, and the Balkans. The dish can be found in certain restaurants but is mainly cooked at home. It is straightforward to try to cook yourself, so this could be a dish for your own kitchen.
Mediterranean cuisine is easily one of the best in the world. Mediterranean food also comes from a diverse range of countries, so it has all sorts of tastes and techniques used. Will you try a specialty from Southern Italy? Southern France? Or perhaps one of the Mediterranean countries in the Middle East? The choice is yours.