This summer I had the opportunity to take a sabbatical for three months, and used half of it to travel around the Mediterranean basin in Europe. I was able to visit portions of southern Italy (including Sardinia and Sicily), Croatia, southern France (including Corsica), and portions of northeastern Spain (including the Basque region). The area is interesting, because so many different cultures and cuisines line the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. While in Sardinia, we stopped at a museum with a fantastic quote, which encompasses the variety across the region:
“What is the Mediterranean?… A thousand things together. Not one landscape, but many landscapes. Not one sea, but a succession of seas. Not a civilization, but a series of civilizations stacked one over the other. Travelling in the Mediterranean means to meet the Roman world in Lebanon, prehistory in Sardinia, Greek cities in Sicily, the Arab presence in Spain, the Turkish Islam in Yugoslavia… It means meeting ancient realities that still exist, alongside the ultramodern…”
– Fernand Braudel, 1987
The quote still rings true today, despite Yugoslavia no longer existing as a single country. The shift in cultures across the region is also reflected in the cuisine, varying from Sicily (cinnamon, pistachios, oranges, fennel, anchovies) to Sardinia (pork, myrtle, bottarga) to southern France (beef, rosemary, lavender) to the Basque region of Spain (salt cod, peppers, sea urchin). But olives grow across most of the region, including trees that have been alive for hundreds of years, and olive products, whether oil, carved olive wood, or simply the cured fruit itself, shows up on tables everywhere. Despite the variety, olives and olive oil were a delicious constant throughout the trip.