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Mezze Dining in the Mediterranean

ECA General Assembly in Malta

There is nothing more Mediterranean than getting together to eat a lot of food. Formal or informal dining notwithstanding, the time-honoured Maltese tradition, of getting all one’s relatives and friends together in one room, whilst feasting on platters of local delicacies, wine and beer peppered with animated conversations, has remained intractable ever since the Phoenicians came to the island. Maltese history has been writ large in food and agriculture and produce, in sharing and cultivating and creating connections. Our catering business gives us the opportunity to infuse our Mediterranean culture into any occasion, and we do this with aplomb. Our client, the ECA (European Club Association), wanted an informal approach to their formal Special General Assembly, which took place at the Saluting Battery in the Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valletta. It allowed us to show off our outside catering credentials in the best way possible: by combining the natural surroundings of Valletta with delectable catering food and an impeccable atmosphere The Saluting Battery’s natural, rough-hewn beauty and intricate little pathways wrap around flower beds overflowing with fragrance and colour, accented with the smell of gun smoke from the daily firing. In the afternoon, the army of cats who’ve made the garden above their home, linger amongst the tourists to take their pick of food, whilst at night, the Saluting Battery takes on a golden hue in the lamplight. There is no better view in Valletta than the Saluting Battery’s full-picture view of the Grand Harbour, the jagged edges of the fortresses, and the sea that goes from blue to grey to a shimmering black over the course of the day. Historically, the Saluting Battery has often been used as a party location for the Knights Hospitaller, who would use the Upper Barrakka Gardens as a social gathering point, ply each other with food and stories, and fill the air with music. For the ECA, we wanted to bring the same effervescent atmosphere back, and make our clients feel like noblemen, in a balmy Maltese evening, with nothing ahead of them but good food and good company. With such a historical location as the Saluting Battery, it’s only fitting that the way the food is served also has a story behind it.

An event with a view

Setting the scene for Mezze-style dining

What is mezze-style dining? Meze, or mezze, style comes from the Persian word ‘to taste’ and is used to talk about a very specific style of dining. Small plates are brought out and displayed on a table, and guests are invited to eat and share and talk amongst themselves whilst they’re dining. Similar forms of dining exist in Spain, where tapas and pintxos are brought out to guests as a precursor to a meal. However, mezze, is often the meal itself. Different parts of the Middle East, Arab countries, and Eastern Mediterranean countries have varying definitions of mezze, but while the ingredients may change, the dining style remains the same. Mezze is a big part of Iftar and Suhoor food offerings during Ramadan and are very popular for home entertaining as it brings friends and families together. The key takeaway from mezze is that the food is intended for sharing, rather than ordered per individual, and all plates are placed in the middle of the dining table where people can take what they want onto their own plates. Mezze can be hot or cold, and usually includes a variety of dishes, both meat-based, grain-based, and in between. If mezze is intended to be the only main course, the meal is finished with Arabic desserts and fresh fruits.

The History of Mezze The word ‘mezze’ has been referenced extensively throughout the ancient Ottoman empire, however the base ingredients for much of the Ottoman culinary history seems to have stemmed from Persia. A large amount of Persian words can be found in documents written by Ottoman Turks in place of other culinary terminology. Recent research has further complicated the true provenance of mezze, as Iran historian Bert Fragner considered that the claim for Persian origins is lacking, considering that mezze could have also been inspired by Greek antiquity, Byzantine legacy, Turkey, and Phoenician traditions. One popular theory suggests that the concept of ‘mezze’ arose from the constant threats that rulers in Ancient Persia had to contend with. As a result, men of power employed personal food tasters to sample their food before they had any of it.

Preparing the main course for guests

Guests at the ECA General Assembly held at the Saluting Battery

Corporate Event Catering with Corinthia Caterers With prestigious guests such as the H.E. Prime Minister of Malta, the MTA chairman, Owners, CEOs and other representatives of the European football clubs, who flew into Malta specifically to attend the annual meeting. Corinthia Caterers set about creating a corporate event befitting this most prestigious of occasions. Typical mezze dishes are usually baba ghanoush (mashed eggplant), and falafel (deep fried balls made from ground chickpeas, fava beans) served onto the middle of a long table. Guests are invited to help themselves and eat, however we welcomed guests with canapes - traditionally used in receptions - to ease them into the evening. Our selection included basil bread topped with crispy Parma caprese, curry bread garnished with soft-cooked spiced pepper and pecan, and squid-ink bread topped with crisped nori, citrus, and salmon mousse. Following the canapes, Corinthia Caterers served antipasti, a first course of multiple small dishes that could be shared amongst the guests including platters of prosciutto crudo, home-cured duck-breast and fresh-made salmon gravadlax. A live pasta-cooking station was set up for the second course. Guests could choose between soft-packed ravioli stuffed with meltingly soft Burrata mozzarella, tossed with cherry tomatoes, basil and olive oil, or garganelli cacio e pepe, crowned with crushed pistachios. A Campari and citrus sorbet was brought out to help cleanse and reinvigorate the palate before the main-course. The main course allowed guests the freedom to select from a choice of grilled fish or meat, and similar to the pasta station, the food was cooked in front of guests to their tastes and preferences. Accompanying all dishes were multiple salad choices and a bread selection basket, as well as local wines specifically to enhance the flavours of the main course. Finally, for dessert we have been experimenting with making our own nougat, a Maltese delicacy that is very popular in Turkey. Maltese nougat or ‘qubbajt’ is popular during village feasts, and epitomises the peak of the ‘festa’ season with all the bangs, yells and smells that are synonymous with these village feasts. ‘Qubbajt’ has been around for centuries, with references to ‘cobaytero’, nougat sellers, found in Maltese records as early as the time of the Knights. It’s impossible to serve a traditional Maltese dessert without including nougat or any iteration of it, and, for the ECA event, the selection was obvious.

Between the firing of the canons, the jazz music that kept the guests entertained throughout the evening, and the glittering Three Cities on the opposite side of the Harbour the guests attending the ECA event were very impressed with Malta and The Grand Harbour in particular. Mezze-style dining was historically considered ideal for breaking down barriers and fostering conversations and the success of the evening more than justified our choice of catering.

Watch the event Video below

Watch moments from the Mezze Style Dinner served during the event below

The organiser of the ECA event was effusive in her praise. You can read her comments in our Guest Book.

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