Introducing East Mediterranean Cuisine

Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurants and cuisine are on the rise in Toronto, so it’s not surprising that their hybrid – East Mediterranean – is also gaining in popularity across the city.

But what the heck is East Mediterranean, you ask?

Simply put, it’s food from Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, often with the addition of Egypt, Greece and Turkey.

To learn more about the cuisine, look no further than Chef Silvena Rowe. Her cookbooks – Orient Express: Fast Food from the East Mediterranean and Purple Citrus & Sweet Perfume – focus on ingredients and dishes of East Mediterranean countries.

Recipes such as Cumin & Sumac-Crusted Barramundi with Avocado HummusHoney and Za'atar-Glazed Spring Lamb with Salsify and Wild Garlic Purée, and Sumac Octopus With Pomegranateillustrate the fragrant flavours she infuses into her dishes.

Here in Toronto, you can experience East Mediterranean food at restaurants including ByblosDistrict Oven and Me Va Me Kitchen Express.

At Byblos, Executive Chef Stuart Cameron has created dishes that "showcase the regionally-specific spices and flavours of the Eastern Mediterranean seaboard." The menu is studded with ingredients you’re probably not familiar with: felfel, basturma, bandari spice, schug, toum, cacik dressing, pilpelchuma, and sabzi sauce. And how exciting is that? Your tastebuds get a chance to experience something completely new.

District Oven’s Executive Chef Isam Kaisi food concept is based on “"he combination of Middle Eastern and southern Mediterranean food that presents a delicious, authentic and innovative fusion of flavour, technique and culture." The Mezze menu for dinner, for example, boasts plates that "maintain the use of traditional Middle Eastern spices and tastes while instilling a touch of Mediterranean influence." Dishes include Cauliflower, Maftool Risotto, Sumac Chili OilGrilled Red Snapper, Mango Amba, Pita Crisps and Half Cornish Hen, Jerusalem Artichokes, Green Chili.

Expect to see more of these exciting, exotic flavours in restaurants across the GTA. In the meantime, here’s a quick glossary of ingredients to help you navigate menus and dishes:

Felfel – bell peppers
Maftool – large couscous
Schug – cilantro sauce, often spiced with hot green peppers
Sumac – tart and fruity spice, can be used in place of lemon juice
Toum – garlic sauce
Za’tar – Middle Eastern spice blend containing sumac, sesame seeds and thyme.