Mediterranean food is the apex of savory: Flavors and ingredients intermingle with settings in such a way that make you wish the moment would never end. The key to making the most of the time that you do have when visiting? Having a head start of where — and what — to look for. Here are a few recommendations for some of our favorite ports.
The Can't-Miss Staple — Paella: Barcelona’s seaside location lends itself well to showcasing seafood paella. Prawns, clams, shrimp and fresh fish all adorn the top of the pan, with a hearty helping of ultra-succulent rice underneath. Three things to consider when looking for a proper paella: Paella has always been a communal dish (beware anywhere that offers single-serving sizes), a good paella takes time (25 minutes at the bare minimum), and a great paella will have socarrat — a crispy and flavorful base layer of rice lining the bottom of the pan.
The Treat You Wouldn't Think to Try — Espardenyes: Maybe you’ve spied espardenyes as an ingredient listed in a paella; maybe you’ve found it offered as a tapa. Wherever you see it, try it. Espardenyes is the Catalonian-given name for the local sea cucumber — a regional delicacy with a delectable earthy flavor and supple texture. Like a rising tide, it raises the flavor of all other seafood you try.
The Venue Worth a Visit — Restaurante Martínez: In Barcelona, there are a sea of restaurants offering paella, with some being better choices than others. Restaurante Martínez rises above the rest — literally. Perched on the side of the Montjuïc hill, sweeping panoramic views of the city and port are simply the side dish accompanying the locally sourced Mediterranean food.
The Can't-Miss Staple — Pizza Napoletana: Entire books could be written about the cuisine of Naples, but when it comes to one can’t-miss dish … this is the birthplace of pizza. Pizza Napoletana is the dish that started it all; fresh local tomatoes and mozzarella and hand-kneaded dough are the foundations present in any variation. In its finished form, look for the dough to be elastic, save for the crust, which should have bubbled and charred in a wood-fired oven. The sum flavor is greater than any of the individual parts — making for all the more reason to savor as many slices as you can.
The Treat You Wouldn't Think to Try — Pizza Fritta: You may think you’ll be pizza’ed out after sampling a city’s worth of Neapolitan slices, but pizza fritta is a treat you can’t pass up. Ricotta cheese, a pinch of black pepper and other pizza toppings are sealed in a pocket of dough before being quickly baptized in a fryer. The final result is taste-bud divinity.
The Venue Worth a Visit — Antica Pizzeria Port'Alba: Widely respected as the world’s first pizzeria, Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba has been in operation since 1738; a visit here is a necessary pilgrimage for any pizza aficionado. Today, despite the historic prestige, the ambiance is no-frills — but the food is downright majestic.
The Can't-Miss Staple — Dondurma: Were you expecting baklava or Turkish Delight to top the list? Dondurma simply proves too unique to miss. Three factors separate dondurma from traditional ice cream. First, salep (powdered orchid bulbs) makes dondurma thick and firm — thick enough to be cut with a knife. Second, mastic sap is added to provide flavor and ample amounts of elasticity. Those two ingredients, plus the vendors kneading the ice cream with metal rods, ultimately make a frozen concoction that’s thick, chewy and decadent. The dondurma vendors playing keep-away with your cone whilst serving it is just an added layer of fun to the treat — the proverbial cherry on top.
The Treat You Wouldn't Think to Try — Tavuk Gögsü: This dessert is one of those dishes you might hesitate to order, but would be crazy not to try while in port. The recipe for tavuk gögsü is simple enough, even if the preparation is not: Chicken breasts are added to a pot of boiling milk and sugar, only to be manually dissolved (pummeled) once it’s all cooled down. Then, the mixture is poured into a tray and cooked on a stove, before being transferred to a final tray, sliced into pieces and topped with cinnamon. With a flavor profile and mouthfeel somewhere between rice pudding and flan, it’s far sweeter than you ever expected chicken to be and pairs wonderfully with the robust flavors of Turkish coffee.
The Venue Worth a Visit — Mandabatmaz: Turkish coffee is the lifeblood of Istanbul — even if finding a quality cup can sometimes prove challenging. The key to Turkish coffee is that the beans (finely ground to the point of powder) are brewed within the cup, resulting in a thick froth at the top packing a flavorful punch. Mandabatmaz, a tiny café tucked away in an alley of Beyoglu, roughly translates to “the buffalo will not sink” — a literal guarantee to the strength of the froth and the quality of coffee. Most of the patrons will savor their coffee while on small stools in the alleyway, proving to be a dreamy respite from the bustle of Istanbul.
Salivating at the chance to experience any or all of the above Mediterranean food for yourself? Our travel agents can help make it happen. Besides streamlining the process of international travel and offering extensive recommendations like the ones above, they can also promise you exclusive perks and amenities with all the leading names in travel. Savoring foreign delicacies is a fair bit sweeter when you’re doing it in opulent luxury.