The Mediterranean Diet
In 2013, the UNESCO included the Mediterranean Diet on the list of Immaterial World Cultural Heritage. Since this is one of the pillars of Spanish culture, this recognition makes us feel especially proud.
What exactly is the Mediterranean Diet? Many would say that it is a lifestyle that forms the fundamental basis for the consumption of basic foods like olive oil, vegetables, cereals and rice. Less frequently eaten foods are red meat, pescado azul (oil-rich fish) and eggs. There is also little intake of foods high in saturated fats. All of these basic elements that make up the Mediterranean Diet are common in the kitchens of Portugal, France, Italy and Spain.
Also found within the Mediterranean Diet are concepts like a relaxing lunch (the most important meal of the day), the careful elaboration of foods based on the freshness of the ingredients or having a glass of wine during the meal. If you can picture all of this, then you are imagining a typical Spanish meal: paella, tortilla (Spanish omelet), Ham, gazpacho, pescaíto frito (a fried-fish plate found in Andalusia), Rioja wine...
The denomination "Mediterranean Diet" is relatively new and was first used in the 1990's, when different studies certified that exceptional health of Europeans living along the Mediterranean was due to, among other factors, its cuisine. However, the Mediterranean Diet can be dated back to Ancient Greece and what has since become known as the "Mediterranean Trilogy": the use of wheat, olive oil and wine as the foundation for ones diet.
Around 300 BCE, the Greek Diet became very popular among the Roman patricians, who appreciated it simple and easily digested food (we have to remember that a wealthy Roman could pass hours eating in a banquet). From patrician tables to conquered lands, this diet was adapted to the circumstances and resources of those new lands that had now fallen under the control of the empire. From here came the variety that we know today: a French ratatouille is not the same as a Spanish pisto or a Sicilian caponata. Or better still, why a Spanish Ribera de Duero doesn't taste the same as a Burgundy, Chianti or Portuguese Trás-os-Montes.
It would take many books to describe how the Greek diet evolved into an important part of today's Spanish cuisine. Maybe the best way to experience this evolution would be by taking a gastronomic tour of Spain. Great History, great food and great culture!