Samui Wining & Dining
Vital Ingredients

Mediterranean Cuisine is as diverse as the countries and cultures that surround
the Mediterranean Sea, as experienced at Red Snapper Restaurant & Bar.

 

Vital IngredientsWhat is Mediterranean cuisine? It’s a question with no straightforward answer. And yet everyone could all give some examples of what they perceive to be quintessential dishes. However, with more than 20 countries and territories and hundreds of islands, the cuisine of the Mediterranean simply can’t be grouped as a single entity. Even with the commonality of olive oil, wheat and grapes, Italian food is a world apart from that of Turkey. And North Africa is another culinary world altogether.

 

In reality, our perception of Mediterranean cuisine is a product of late 20th century development based on centuries of evolution. In classical times, control of the world began with control of the Mediterranean, and it has been the seat of empires for millennia. Many powerful cultures have ruled over large parts of the Mediterranean from the Phoenicians and Alexander the Great to the Romans and the Venetians. This long history of imperial colonization, not to mention that of international trade, has rendered a deeply shared culture and agriculture amongst the Mediterranean countries. And yet it’s only in relatively recent times that oranges, lemons, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, maize and coffee were introduced to the region from the newly discovered Americas.

 

Nowadays, you could roughly divide the Mediterranean into three culinary regions: North African (particularly Morocco), the eastern Mediterranean (Egypt, Greece, Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey) and southern European (Italy, France and Spain). Wine and herbs are central to Southern European cuisine, whilst spices intricately flavour North African foods. And the region’s bounty, nurtured by the climate, is reflected in the primary role vegetables play in dishes throughout most of the countries. Onions, garlic, tomatoes and olive oil begin many dishes. Eggplants abound, as do squashes, peppers, mushrooms, cucumbers, artichokes, okra, and various greens and lettuces. Legumes, too, are ubiquitous with lentils, chickpeas, fava beans, green beans and white kidney beans used extensively. Fresh herbs are also essential and rosemary, basil, cilantro, parsley, mint, dill, fennel and oregano are all key ingredients.

And seafood remains at the core of the costal areas culinary heritage. All manner of shellfish appears in soups, stews and pastas. Anchovies are widely eaten as are various white-fleshed fish like sole, flounder, and grouper. Other fish common to the region include swordfish, monkfish, eel, cuttlefish, squid, and octopus. And smaller animals, such as lambs, goats, sheep, pigs, rabbits and fowl provide most of the meat. But it’s the perception of healthy eating that has made the region more prominent in the last few decades. And many of you will be familiar with the concept of the Mediterranean Diet.

 

It’s a modern nutritional recommendation inspired by the traditional dietary patterns of Crete, much of mainland Greece and southern Italy in the 1960s. And in 2010, UNESCO recognized the diet as an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ of Italy, Greece, Spain and Morocco, reinforcing it not only as a fundamental part of their history and background, but also as a great contribution to the world. However, despite its name, this diet is not typical of all Mediterranean cuisine. In Northern Italy, for instance, lard and butter are commonly used in cooking and olive oil is reserved for dressing salads and cooked vegetables. In North Africa, wine is traditionally avoided by Muslims and along with olive oil, sheep’s tail fat and rendered butter (samna) are traditional staple fats. And a paradox arises because whilst the people living in Mediterranean countries tend to consume relatively high amounts of fat, they have far lower rates of cardiovascular disease than in countries like the United States, where similar levels of fat consumption are found. A parallel phenomenon is known as the French Paradox. It’s the observation that French people suffer a relatively low incidence of coronary heart disease, despite having a diet relatively rich in saturated fats. When a description of this paradox was aired in the United States on the television show ‘60 Minutes’ in 1991 with the speculation that red wine decreases the incidence of cardiac diseases, the consumption of red wine increased by 44% and some wineries began lobbying for the right to label their products as ‘health food’.

 

A sign of the times perhaps but time doesn’t stand still and neither does the evolution of food. Not only have many people travelled the world, the cuisines of many countries flourish in the high streets of towns and cities across Europe, North America and the Pacific-Rim. And modern day chefs tend to have passports brimming with visa stamps.

 

One of those is Sébastien Meunier, the Chef de Cuisine at Red Snapper Restaurant & Bar, in Chaweng. He learned his craft in Michelin-starred restaurants in his native France and has travelled extensively throughout south-east Asia. And he’s fused his Mediterranean roots with classical recipes, local produce and Asian influences. “The menu at Red Snapper is designed to bring all of those elements to the fore whilst retaining distinctive parts of my culinary experiences and creations. And some dishes never go out of fashion; we may just put our twist or mark on it by presenting the dish in a different way. In addition, restaurant guests are extremely knowledgeable about world foods and are certainly health conscious. And Mediterranean and Thai cuisines are noted for their high nutritional value as well as great textures, aromas and flavours.”

 

Chef Sébastien has included some wonderful Mediterranean inspired dishes in his menu and they’re a part of the reason Red Snapper has continued to be rated so highly by visitors and locals alike. Their Greek salad; chilled gazpacho with ricotta and pesto mousse; and pan-fried Haloumi with roasted mushrooms, red pepper tapenade and pesto dressing are perennial favourites as appetizers. And the slow-cooked lamb shoulder with chouchouka, couscous, roasted almonds and mint sauce; the black ink spaghetti with seafood, cashew nut pesto and Pernod flambé; and the duck breast with peaches, green peppercorns and walnuts are always top-sellers.

 

Mediterranean Cuisine comes in many guises and includes a vast array of ingredients. But there’re well-travelled and experienced chefs out there who know their business. And perhaps the most vital ingredients are their skills and creativity.

 

Johnny Paterson

 


Copyright 2017 Samui Wining & Dining. All rights reserved Siam Map Company Ltd.