The reason is that in the past Cretans suffered from famine, wars and lack of water, which forced them to invent ways of feeding their families. Cretan diet is a combination of thousands of years of culinary history, mixed by Mediterranean influences and foreigners who came and lived in Crete and left their own small mark on the Cretan diet.
The first general culinary rule is that oil is used in every plate and food combination, with tomato and oregano coming in the second and third place. Meat is mainly goats’ and lamb comes second. There is some pork around but beef is imported. Don’t expect to find a great variety of fresh fish, as the Mediterranean sea is overfished and over polluted. To find fresh fish its best to visit remote villages, like Kasteli, Kissamos, Paliohora, Sougia and Sfakia.
For Cretan nutrion and recipies, see page www.cretan-nutrition.gr
Starters, salads and side dishes
- Achinosalata – sea urchins’ egs, mixed with lemon and olive oil.
- Dolmadakia – wine leaves with a rice filling.
- Kolokithoheftedes – courget and vegetable fried balls.
- Saganaki – baked/grilled feta cheese.
- Skordalia – garlic dip.
- Taramosalata – fish roe dip.
- Tsatsiki – yogurt, garlic and cucumber dip.
- Chtapodia – octopus cooked with vinegar.
- Patzaria – beetroot.
- Gigantes – large white beans.
- Fava – lentils puree.
- Sfakianopites – pies filled with mizithra cheese, add honey to taste on top.
- Paximadi – These are Cretan rusks, together with tomatoes, Graviera cheese and olives are the staple and foundation of the Greek diet.
- Ntakos – Cretan rusks with finely chopped tomatoes and mizithra cheese on top.
- Apaki – Smoked goat’s meat.
- Staka – It’s the top cream that residue after milk is made into yogurt or cheese. Served with oil as a starter.
- Pies – many varieties, with wild herbs, Maratha (Marathopites), horta (greens – Hortopita), meat (Kreatopita).
- Graviera Cheese – Made from goat’s milk, it’s a hard white cheese, gets a bit oily with heat.
- Kalitsounia – They are Cretan small pies and come in a variety of combinations. Stuffed with various herbs depending on season and usually combined with Mizithra cheese.
- Honey – The main Cretan variety is Thymarisio and originate from thyme, as there are plenty of thymes on the Cretan mountains.
- Horta (generally) – greens served with olive oil and lemon
- Choriatiki – Greek salad, tomatoes, cucumbers, other greens, feta cheese.
- Gyros – meat roasted on a vertically turning spit and served with sauce (often tzatziki) and garnishes (tomato, onions) on pita bread; a popular fast food.
- Boureki – Cooked in oven, it’s a vegetarian dish with layers of potatoes, vegetables and Mizithra cheese.
- Paidakia – grilled lamb chops with lemon, oregano, salt and pepper.
- Pastitsio – an oven-baked layer dish: Bechamel and cheese sauce top, then pasta in the middle and ground meat cooked with tomato sauce at the bottom.
- Moussaka – an oven-baked layer dish: minced meat and eggplant, bechamel and cheese sauce top. Similar to Pastitsio.
- Pilafi (or Gamopilafo) – boiled goats’ meat, then its taken out of the pot and rice is cooked in broth. Typical of Cretan religious ceremonies and weddings.
- Tsigariasto – For the meat lovers, it’s a goad fried on its fat and olive oil. High in cholesterol.
- Snails – (Hohlii Boubouristi) – There are two ways to cook snails, fry them while covered in flower or cook them on the hob (Boubouristi variation) with olive oil, tomato, herbs and
vegetables. First you need to master the art of taking out the shell, by knocking them in the center of the spiral and then twist. Let a local show you how to do it.
- Kleftiko – lamb cooked in special paper, which keeps the juices and fragrance.
- Giouvetsi – lamb or veal baked in a clay pot with kritharaki and tomatoes.
- Giemista – are tomatoes, aubergines, potatoes and peppers stuffed with rice and vegetables.
- Stuffed Courgette flowers – similar with Giemista, but are more yummy!
- Briam – baked mixed vegetables, somewhat similar to ratatouille.
- Vegetable soups – often made with a meat stock.
- Brink’s beer – It’s an organic product produced south of Rethymno, according to the German purity law of the 15th century.
- Raki – The leftover of grapes ferment in barrels for 1 month and then distilled with different herbs. Depending when it is distilled, it can be 40-90% strong!
- Rakomelo – Is warm Raki (not boiled), with cinnamon, gloves, lemon peel and plenty of honey, according to your taste. Perfect for winter months or those who want to be drunk easily and pleasantly!
- Wine – Cretan wine is rarely bottled, production is low and sold in neighbor small markets really cheap. Bring an empty water bottle, try the wine from various barrels (if applicable) and fill up the bottle!
- Malotira mountain tea – Malotira is the Cretan tea. You can buy it in small bunches from most food shops, its served warm with honey.There is a great range of other therapeutic herbs.
Fresh fish is not cheap because the Mediterranean has been depleted by thousand of years of overfishing. The fresh fish are charged per kg in restaurants and the price is around 10-20 Euro per kilo. Some very nice smaller fish types are still pretty affordable and just as tasty.
Crete has a thousand year old tradition of vine cultivation, wineries and drinking of wine, both in religious and social events. This can be witnessed from the frescoes discovered in Knossos as well as the numerous ancient wineries discovered and the wine residue in ancient clay pots and cups.
It’s hard to condense the history and tradition of winemaking in a few lines. All around Chania there are small and big family wineries, Cretans always making sure that will never be short of wine.
There are many varieties of wines, as well as combinations of various grapes. The best site for information on Cretan wines, varieties and the wineries is www.winesofcrete.gr
The main Cretan products are three: Olive oil, honey and wine. If you go around the villages in Crete, you can buy locally any of these three products wherever you find a small minimarket. The quality is superior and are usually family produced. You can try the wine and if you like it, they will fill up an empty water bottle for you. The price is between 3-7 euro per liter, depending on age and variety.
We recommend our guests to visit four main wineries which are also on the way of main sightseeing’s:
• If you are in Chania, we recommend three places to find good wine. One is Miden Agan in Daskalogiannis: www.midenaganshop.gr Two more are located in Voloudaki and Peridou St just after Markou Botsari St. These and others in the villages are without specific names but have barrels in the cafes and shops where you can taste and choose the type of wine you want (bring a plastic bottle to fill it).
• If you are heading towards the beaches of Elafonisi, Falassarna or Balo / Gramvousa (west of Chania), in the village of Drapanias Pneumatakis Winery www.pnevmatikakis.com.gr
• Mount Kolymbari in the village of Vouves is the ancient olives of the Vouves www.olivemuseumvouves.com
• Kolymbari’s boats at Pontikiana are the winery of Karavitaki www.karavitakiswines.com
• Cretan beer microbrewery at Kounimpari in Zounaki www.cretanbeer.gr
• In Kissamos, in the village of Anoskeli, there is the homonymous winery https://anoskeli.gr
• In Tavronitis is the Terra Creta mill www.terracreta.gr
• If you are heading to Omalos, Samaria or Sougia (south of Crete), Vantolakos Manousakis Winery www.nostoswines.com
• In Alikambos to Sfakia the Dourakis winery www.dourakiswinery.gr
• In Akrotiri and Chania Airport at the Monastery of Agia Triada www.agiatriada-chania.gr