Difference between Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food?

To you, what is the difference between Mediterranean food and Middle Eastern food?

Or is there one in your mind?

I know technically (based on Google and Wiki) there is one but I am curious what the common perception is.

Middle Eastern food tends to be fairly similar across its region, in line with generally similar cultures

Whereas Med. food is much more varied - from Southern Spain and Morocco in the west, through to Cyprus in the East. The foods are varied as are the cultures.


Different ingredients & seasonings.


My DIL schooled me on that one! :neutral_face: One take home for me was that Mediterranean included more countries, or maybe dishes, with coastal influences. But I did a bit of searching.

I also learned that yogurt and labneh are “completely different”.:grimacing:


Another difference …whilst I can think of several Middle Eastern restaurants in my home area, I can’t think of any restaurant that describes itself. as Mediterranean. Spanish, French, Italian, Greek, Cypriot - yes. But Mediterranean - no.

There’s not much difference for me apart from the words used for some dishes. Then there are some dishes using the same words that are quite different from region to region, like moussaka in Greece vs moussaka in Lebanon, or youvetsi in Greece vs gvetch in Bulgaria. Cacik / Tzatziki, baklava/ baklawa, sucuk / soutzoukakia, burek/ bourekas/ brik, etc .

Middle Eastern/ Iranian is more likely to use sumac than the countries on the north side of the Mediterranean.

To me? I think of Mediterranean cuisine as southern European. On reflection, this must be myopic, because the Med washes many other shores.

I think of Middle Eastern as from the Levant, mostly Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian and Persian.


My Long Island-born teenage self wouldn’t have known Mediterranean as anything beyond Greek and Italian. In the SFBA, a “Mediterranean” self-description is a shibboleth for a Middle Eastern place that’s not gonna be very good. In Fresno, even the good Middle Eastern and/or Armenian restaurants seem to be classified as Mediterranean.

It’s an interesting question— I think that in Northern California, most restaurants featuring food from the Middle Eastern derive from countries that border the Mediterranean — Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan (nearly). Non-Med Middle Eastern places, such as Yemeni and Iranian/Persian places, tend to self-identify. I can think of only a handful of places with Saudi, Iraqi, etc. owners.


I think of them as a Venn diagram with plenty of overlap in the middle, but plenty of differences too, by region and country.

What about you @ipsedixit? What prompted the question?

(Fwiw, the restaurants that label themselves “mediterranean” in nyc tend to be either pan-Euro or middle eastern wanting to “brand” themselves differently.)


That makes sense to me, but one thing I learned is that while parts of Turkey (for example) are on the Mediterranean, a lot of it is not, and the dishes seem more regional.


And, of course, the influence of the Ottoman Empire means that many of the dishes of the Middle East owe an origin/influence to Turkey. It’s a geographically large and diverse country.

The food of its Kurdish people will be very similar to the food of the Kurdish communities in Syria, Iraq and Iran.


Ingredients/spices/seasonings generally found in ME, but not Med cuisine: sumac, za’atar, labneh, mahlab/mahlepi, cardamom, turmeric, cumin, saffron, freekeh, chickpeas, chili peppers.

I associate ME cuisine with having more complex flavor profiles and HEAT. Not a lot of particularly spicy dishes in Greek, Italian, Southern French, or Spanish cooking.

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In Toronto, a resto labelling itself as Mediterranean is usually either a Hodge Podge of Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and/ or Greek, usually all at a 6/10 to 7/10 level, or a restaurant owned by Middle Eastern people that sells Greek-ish food, including souvlaki in a pita, but the pita is not folded the Greek way, and the restaurant also sells falafel and tabbouleh.

Forgot pomegranate / pomegranate molasses.


Gotta include the ‘near eastern’ cuisine in the Venn!

Lots of chickpeas and saffron in Spanish cooking, also some pomegranate but not the pomegranate molasses. Granada is the Spanish word for pomegranate. Portugal has spicy elements in some dishes from the Mozambique (southern Africa) influence during that country’s age of exploration/colonization.


And, of course, is responsible for importing chilli to India (through its colony in Goa).

And the African influence on European cuisine would be an interesting subject. I know that Africa has had minimal effect on British cuisine, whereas India and Hong Kong have had significant effects. But have the other major colonising countries taken African elements into their food - France, Belgium, Germany, Italy?

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Ah, I did not know that. Probably bc I usually avoid the chalk balls wherever I can :wink:

And Italy has RPF & other hot peppers, but I wouldn’t consider Italian cuisine to be one that focuses on heat.

I think of Calabrian food as using Bomba.

I guess I don’t think of Italian food as one type of food stretching from the Alps to Sicily. I break it into Northern, Central and Southern regions. The hot Italian sausages, the hot Salamis, the hot Coppa and the Bomba.

I don’t really consider the food of Northern Italy to be Mediterranean in the way that Portugese, Provence, Greek, Spanish, Serbian and Bulgarian food are Mediterranean.

Northern Italians won’t like this. I consider the food of Northeastern Italy/Alpine Italy to be fairly Germanic/ Teutonic. :joy:

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I wonder if using that as a catch-all description is just for us Yanks? There are many around here using “Mediterranean” in the name and “Middle Eastern” in the name. Also many Persian, but that’s the only ME type restaurants I can find frequently being specific as to country - searching for Syrian or Palestinian, e.g., just hits on those describing themselves as one of the two types in the OP title. I got only a couple of hits when searching explicitly for Lebanese and Turkish restaurants.

Searching for Spanish restaurants only hits on Tapas joints, none of them using Spain or Spanish in the title (maybe because of the plethora of Mexican places?). Searching “Cypriot” only hits on Greek restaurants (of which there are many), and there are many describing themselves as French and Italian.

This is in a metro area of about 7 million souls. To be fair, though, this is SE US. If I moved my search up to Manhattan or Alexandria, I’d probably find a lot more places being more specific about the origin of the cuisine.