Cretan cuisine is famous for the purity of its taste, freshness and fragrance. It is impossible to cover the wide range of choices available. Below we are giving you just a flavour.
What is to be remembered – the food in Crete is cooked by the family for the family and for all who are welcome as family.
Olive oil is the most important ingredient in Cretan cuisine. Virtually everything has a spoonful (or two or three) of olive oil thrown on top. Some Cretan dishes even swim in the golden liquid, only to their benefit. The more olive oil is used the healthier. Cretan diet is said to be one of the healthiest in the world.
Cretan olives are hand harvested using traditional methods to produce the olive oil, entirely organic. It’s a great mystery to anyone who has picked an olive from the tree to work out how someone could have thought that this small fruit would be transformed into a delicious meze on its own or into a tasty, and health giving oil.
Oregano is perhaps the most common herb used, but sage, thyme, parsley, marjoram, basil, fennel, and dill also play a prominent role in the Cretan cuisine. On Crete, you’ll find them growing in the wild or cultivated.
À LA CARTE
Cretan Appetizers and Sides - Mezes
Fresh beans cooked with a little crushed tomato and olive oil. The simplicity of this dish belies its taste and reminds us never to judge a book by its cover.
A typical Cretan dish. Dried bread with grated tomato, olive oil, cheese and oregano. Crunchy, light and full of flavor, it makes a perfect snack.
Among the main varieties you’ll find: anthotiros, a sheep and goat cheese which is mild and soft when it’s fresh and salty and earthy when hard; kefalotiri, a firm sheep or goat cheese, and mizithra, the typical fresh cheese of Crete made from sheep’s milk (and when made from goat’s milk it’s called katsikithia). Graviera, the typical hard cheese of Crete is usually made with sheep’s milk. Although the name sounds suspiciously like gruyere, graviera is nothing like its Swiss sister namesake.
Pieces of lamb on the spit. Delicious! Antikristo was originally cooked in the mountainous areas by shepherds without any utensils. These days could be tasted in tavernas. The best antikristo is cooked, of course, at home with family and friends.
• Cretan Pilaf
Rich, flling rice, a staple of Cretan weddings. It is cooked in meat broth. It may sound boring, but the richness and depth of flavor will surprise you. Usually served with roast lamb.
Beef stew with vegetables and olive oil, and onions, a lot of onions. It’s a hearty, wholesome dish, always appreciated hot and plentiful.
Sow roasted joint of lamb with, succulent, tasty and falling of the bone.
Creamy, cheesy baked pasta dish that is sometimes called the Greek lasagna. Pastitsio is traditionally made with large tubular pasta, a meat and tomato sauce, and topped with a thick béchamel sauce.
Layers of potatoes and aubergines with mince, lots of herbs, topped with a thick béchamel sauce baked in the oven. One of the traditionals on the menu, best cooked at home.
• Greek yogurt
Decadently rich and creamy, this stuff is to die for. The local Cretan yogurt variety is made with sheep’s milk instead of cow’s milk.
• Kalitsounia Kritis
A pastry crust stuffed with a slightly sweet Cretan cheese mixture (often including mizithra). Their sweetness implies dessert, but they are also served as appetizers.
Like hand-made donut holes fried in olive oil and topped with honey, cinnamon, and finely ground earthy bits like sesame or nuts. Decadent.
Something to drink
• Cretan Wine
Crete is one of the Greece’s biggest wine producers. Most of the wine is the homemade variety. However there is a choice of famous varieties widely available such as Liatiko, Muscat of Spina, Vidiano and many more such as the traditional.
The local wine history stretches 3,500 years but it has only been recently that Cretan wine has achieved popularity. A visit to the island will provide an opportunity to sample what very well might become world-class wines in the making which simply cannot be found anywhere else.
It’s hard to visit Crete without drinking raki — a couple of times a day. Although raki is made in the same way as Italian grappa – from the remains of grapes, it is fortunately smoother and less potent. And, it’s almost always served with food like savory little snacks or dessert.
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