As the mercury rises, one of the cuisines that we instinctively turn to is Mediterranean. It may be the prevalence of seafood, fresh salads, zesty flavours or just the use of olive oil instead of butter that whets our appetite in this sweltering heat. Having said that, while the region is tied together by the eponymous stretch of water, it’s quite unfair to lump the cultures of the coastal regions of Southern Europe, Northern Africa and the Levantine into one. All the same, trade has connected these areas for centuries, leading to shared ingredients and even the intertwining of cooking methods. Mediterranean cuisine isn’t governed by a single culture but is very much the product of cultural influence and exchange. In fact, several of the world’s earliest civilisations bordered the Mediterranean Sea, their development bolstered by the rich soil and temperate climate that made agricultural production thrive. The warm weather and fertile Mediterranean coast create the perfect conditions for growing and producing many of the region’s best-known ingredients, including olives, figs, citrus fruits, various vegetables and fresh seafood. Where to eat in Hong Kong in July, from CBD to spam musubi restaurant concepts Of these, the core ingredients that define the cuisine are olives, wheat and grapes. Olive trees produce a bitter fruit that is used to extract healthy and delicious olive oils for cooking. The oil works great as a base for dressings, adding a bold and distinct flavour to everything from appetisers and salads, to pasta and other main dishes. Since the trees are native to the Mediterranean region, it makes sense that its people have the highest per capita consumption of the liquid gold compared to anywhere else in the world. Wheat is grown across all parts of the region, with the most common ways of consuming it being the many varieties of pasta and couscous. Grapes find a variety of uses as well. They are turned into wine, dried as raisins for extra flavour in salads or bread, or just eaten as a pre-dinner snack. The Mediterranean has some of the world’s largest grape harvests and produces grapes with a wide range of exquisite taste profiles. In addition to the three main staples of Mediterranean cuisine, other commonly used ingredients that round out a traditional meal include fresh vegetables such as aubergine, artichoke, tomatoes, cucumber, spinach, lettuce and onions that are roasted, sautéed, grilled, puréed, or served fresh in salads. Meats such as chicken, beef and pork are typically grilled and served as kebabs or skewers. Additionally, seafood is regularly included in a typical meal. Fresh herbs enliven the cuisine, giving it the unique and fresh flavour that everyone has come to know and love. The Mediterranean is known for herbs such as basil, oregano, thyme and rosemary, to name a few, which add a punch to dishes. Corey Riches, the executive chef at Hong Kong’s Bedu, in Central, highlights that the region is a mix of Europe and the Middle East, with a combination of land and sea, so the cuisine is a real balance of spicy, citrusy, fresh and sour flavours. “Our food reflects many regions from the Mediterranean,” says Riches. “From Greece through to Lebanon, all these countries have a style of cheese with honey, prawns are a very coastal and fresh dish, and our hummus mixes recipes from Israel and Lebanon. “The Bedouin tribes were nomadic people, moving from place to place, so at Bedu we have no specific state of origin, I like to be fluid and seasonal. We use a lot of classic bases, like labneh and hummus but with my twist to fit Hong Kong’s climate and customer base. For example, tagines can be heavy and hot in Hong Kong, and the traditional kibbe nayeh made with minced raw lamb does not often appeal to the international taste buds we have here.” Are old Hong Kong’s famous tailors disappearing? Over on the southern European side of the region, Stephane Guillas, executive chef of Nissa La Bella, in Sheung Wan, believes it’s the simplicity of the cuisine that makes it so popular. “Mediterranean food is the kitchen of the Riviera – local, fresh, simple, cooked with olive oil, simple seasoning, citrus fruits and Provencal herbs. For us, Mediterranean food is best shared with friends and family.” At Nissa La Bella there are several dishes that specifically represent Niçoise cuisine, a style of cooking that has taken its influences from the areas surrounding the city of Nice. It has its own unique flavours, combining tastes from the neighbouring regions of Provence, Liguria and Piedmont, as well as borrowing Mediterranean flavours from further afield. “We are a French/Italian restaurant so we naturally cover a big area of the Mediterranean, but for us Mediterranean food is not just about geography, it is a culture that respects produce, it does not over complicate dishes, it focuses on simplicity and beautiful flavour combinations,” Caisson adds. Over at the newly opened Salisterra, in The Upper House, where the focus is on the coastal regions of France and Italy, there is a lot of emphasis on vegetables, seafood and pasta. Dishes like the “FOMO potatoes” and pickled carrots take centre stage. Chef Jun Tanaka, collaborating chef of Salisterra reminisces: “Mediterranean cuisine reminds me of being on holiday. It’s fresh, colourful and plentiful. Simple but satisfying. There’s also a lot of focus on vegetables and seafood, which I love.” Want more stories like this? Sign up here. Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter .