Mediterranean diets are renowned for being healthy, comprising lots of fruit and veg, beans, and cereals like wholegrain bread, pasta and brown rice. There’s also a fair dose of fish, white meat and some dairy thrown in for good measure too.
Pizza, pasta, olives, hummus and various lamb, beef or chicken-based dishes are synonymous with Mediterranean countries, but who invented them and how did they come into existence?
Brits are more likely to order pizza in a restaurant than any other food, recent research suggests. This frisbee-like slice of deliciousness is the second biggest-selling dinner item in supermarkets, while our US cousins devour three billion pizzas every year.
Put simply, everyone loves pizza, but where did it come from?
Pizza, as we know it, was developed in Naples in the 18th century, when tomato was slapped on top of a slice of focaccia. It was eaten almost exclusively within the nation of Italy until World War II, when it was discovered by Allied troops stationed in the country.
However, there is evidence of pizza-esque dishes thousands of years before that, with suggestions that Roman soldiers added cheese and olive oil to matzah - a plain flatbread used for Jewish Passover.
These days, pizza is massive, literally. The largest pizza recorded by Guinness World Records to date covered 13,580 sq ft, while one Canadian pizzeria will sell you a 108-slice pizza, measuring 12 sq ft and making it the most sizable commercially available pizza.
You won’t find any pizzas that ginormous on an MSC Cruises ship, but guests can savour a freshly-baked authentic crisp-base Italian pizza from the comfort of their own cabin within 20 minutes of ordering.
Spain’s national dish also has ancient roots, originating around the 10th century when Valencians made casseroles with rice, fish and spices.
By the 15th century, eating rice had become a Spanish custom, but paella represents more than just a tasty dish. According to one food historian, it symbolises the union and heritage of two important cultures: the Roman, which gave us the utensil, and the Arab, which contributed the basic food of humanity for centuries.
The word for paella derives from the Old French word ‘paelle’ or the Latin word ‘patella’ for ‘pan’, which is also related to ‘paila’ used in many Latin American countries. Paila in the Spanish language of Latin America refers to a variety of cookware resembling metal and clay pans, which are also used for both cooking and serving.
Paella is often regarded as Spain’s national dish, but most Spaniards consider it to be a regional Valencian dish, preferring the tortilla Española (or Spanish omelette) as their avatar for national cuisine.
With MSC Cruises offering trips to several major Spanish destinations including Barcelona, Valencia, it should be no surprise that paella is one of the many fine dishes you can enjoy whilst aboard our ships.
Hailing from the French city of Nice in the 19th century, this healthy salad dish traditionally comprises tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, Niçoise olives and anchovies, topped with a zig-zag of olive oil and, very often, tuna.
Some of the world’s most famous chefs are fans, such as Delia Smith, who considers it to be “one of the best combinations of salad ingredients ever invented”, while Gordon Ramsay believes it “must be the finest summer salad of all”.
There’s a tale that the salad came about in 1533 when Catherine de' Medici of Florence moved to Paris after marrying Henry, who would eventually become King Henry II of France. The young bride was apparently so concerned that she would waste away with French cooking that she promptly imported a group of Italian cooks and her pastry chef to satisfy her palate. The influence of these chefs is said to have had a lasting impact on the evolution of French cooking.
Aboard an MSC Cruises ship, you'll be able to enjoy a variety of delicate, delicious salads and even invent your own take on Salade Niçoise at the buffet.
There’s no definitive version of moussaka, with Greece, Turkey and Egypt having their own take on this baked layered dish.
Many accept that the Greeks came up with moussaka, and while its specific origins are hazy, it is believed that the Arabs were highly influential in its origins when they brought eggplant into the country.
However, in 1920, a chef named Nikos Tselementes took it upon himself to ‘cleanse’ Greek cuisine from any Turkish influence and added French béchamel sauce in a bid to make the dish more European.
Like its iconic Italian sibling pizza, pasta dates back around 2,000 years to the first century AD, with Roman writings referring to fine sheets of fried dough being enjoyed as everyday food. There’s a recipe for lasagna as we know it today from the early fifth century too.
Despite pasta’s strong Italian links, popular history suggests that one of its most famous variants, spaghetti, was actually invented in China, before it was brought over to Venice by merchant traveller Marco Polo.
Spaghetti bolognese is perhaps the most well-known spaghetti dish, but a very touchy subject with Italians. That’s because the ‘spag bol’ served in the UK is often very far removed from the recipe set down by the chamber of commerce in Bologna - the home of bolognese - in 1982.
The reason for this is because the dish shouldn’t use spaghetti to begin with, but tagliatelle, at least according to purists, who consider spaghetti bolognese to be “the most abused Italian dish” and insist that ingredients like turkey mince, American meatballs, butter and cream should be nowhere near a bolognese.
Guests aboard any MSC Cruises ship can enjoy authentic Italian pasta, created by artisanal producers in line with sustainable local traditions for a gastronomic sensation that respects your health and the health of our planet.
In fact, all MSC Cruises guests can savour a variety of Mediterranean specialities, along with the chef’s signature dishes inspired by our Mediterranean heritage, at our elegant main restaurants.
Our sumptuous Mediterranean offering also stretches to a more casual setting, with our buffet sections serving up an authentic taste of the Med with freshly-prepared specialities.