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Jun 7, 2007 01:44 AM

Mediterranean v. Middle Eastern

In several restaurant listing, some restaurants are divided between these two categories: Mediterranean and Middle Eastern.

My question is what is the difference? Oftentimes I see a restaurant serving hummus, falafel, etc. under Mediterranean whereas I normally would think of these as Middle Eastern dishes.


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  1. I think restaurant-wise, the terms do tend to get used interchangeably. Technically, though, not all Mediterranean countries are Middle Eastern, and not all Middle Eastern countries are Mediterranean. I think it depends on who's doing the listing, and what their criteria are.

    1. Definitely not an expert on this but I always understood these two terms to be semi-interchangeable (in the same way "continental cuisine" is often use) with many similarities and cross-over but with definite distinctions (think Serrano vs. Prosciutto or sate in SE Asia).

      I always figured Mediterranean meant Greece, Turkey, Morocco, some Italian (on the med Sea) and Middle Eastern meant Persian, Afghani, Iraqi, etc.(land locked). I don't know the specifics and could never comment but a primer with break down of similarities, distinctions and specialties would be very cool.

      1. In restaurants it's mostly, IMNSHO, a matter of habit and "giving people what they think they want." Being have Jewish and half Greek, I can't tell you how annoyed I get at having that all lumped together into one generic mishmash (including the ever-present Ashkenazim vs Sephardim thing.) Take my tendency to rant about pita bread in Greek restaurants (pita being neither Greek nor even Turkish) or my annoyance both Turks and Greeks for their general lack of acknowledgment to the Persians for their strong influence on what we now consider the "cuisine of the region." But what can you do?

        Otherwise, it's really impossible to make any hard and fast distinctions. That region was truly the crossroads of the Western world - and the bridge between East and West - for almost a couple of thousands of years, so it's like asking what's "American food", only several orders of magnitude more convoluted. :) Many things are are basically common to much of the area - no surprise - but there are subtle and not-so-subtle differences among them - differences among them that are very obvious to those living there, but not so obvious in other cultures. (Sort of like Swedes and Norwegians having a longstanding historical enmity, and not being at all amused that most Americans thought of them as being pretty much all the same thing. Or so I was told by a friend of Norwegian descent once upon a time. :)) )

        1. the inclusion or exclusion of pork is one criterion.

          1 Reply
          1. re: byrd

            Proportionally, maybe, but historically at least it's more complicated since there have been - at least until fairly recently - significant pockets of endemic "Middle Eastern" Christians of various sorts for whom pork would be an option, if maybe not common.

          2. To add even more confusion, I've seen Moroccan food listed as Middle Eastern! I guess Geography has nothing to do with it.

            Mediterranean can be anything touching that sea. At least ten years ago there was a boom in Provencal/Spanish/Italian places that touched upon all three of those popular cuisines. They are also sometimes listed as Mediterranean.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Steve

              Geography has a great deal to do with it, ignorant food writers on the other hand....

              Moroccan food has "Middle Eastern" (ie, Arab, mostly, with their adopted Persian, etc. influence) influences, but it's almost as silly to call the cuisine as a whole "Middle Eastern" as it to call Greek cuisine that. And ludicrous as I think the latter is, I've seen it referred to that way. You might as well call Proven├žal and southern Spanish cuisine "Middle Eastern" by that standard. (ack!)