I’ve been wanting to create these Mediterranean food illustrations for a while now, and I’m so happy I finally got around to making this happen! I love how food culture in the Mediterranean region is so diverse, yet sometimes so comparable. You might think food in Italy is totally different from food in Lebanon or Syria, but the fact is, in some areas of Italy there are foods that are very similar to traditional dishes found in other parts of the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East!
Sicily, for instance, has three of its traditional dishes shared with communities in North Africa’s Egypt and Syria’s Aleppo! That is because “cultural fusion” is the name of the game in this beautiful island, considered by some as “the world’s oldest colony” and a place where many civilizations have laid anchor.
Several Greek dishes are also mind bogglingly similar to ones found in Turkey, Lebanon, and even Egypt; although Egyptian food is generally 180 degrees different from Lebanese or Levantine food.
Today’s Mediterranean food illustrations do not include every gastronomic culture in the Mediterranean. It’s more or less a culinary tour around the cultures that directly influence my personal food identity as an illustrator. I have cultural and, at times, genetic roots in each of the cultures represented here, being: Italy, Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon and Turkey.
In terms of generic food similarities, you can always easily bundle Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria together. You can also put Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey in one group.
But you will always get a surprise dish, in a far-away town, somewhere across the Mediterranean that somehow reminds you of a meal you once had many miles away!
That’s the beauty of food migration, a topic that never ceases to pique my curiosity. How did food travel from one culture to another in the ancient world? Why did some dishes stick around, while others failed to make their way into the culinary vocabulary of a certain nation, town, or village? Are trade, interracial marriage and cultural domination the only reasons food travelled in the olden days, or are there other hidden factors that took one dish from one village to another across the Mediterranean?
Interesting questions that I might explore in the future in my Illustrated Travel Stories blog series, so stay tuned!
Food illustration by illustrator and artist Yaansoon