Foodies heaven in Crete
Feb 1, 2021
World-famous olive oil, world-class cheeses, a large variety of greens and herbs, hormone-free fruit and vegetables, fiery spirits…
With more than 300 days of sunshine in a year, Crete produces a surplus of edible goods that stand out for their health benefits, quality and taste.
Drawing on one of the planet’s most long-standing and renowned gastronomic traditions, these raw materials -packed with goodness- are combined in straightforward, unpretentious ways, designed to bring out the unique aromas and flavors of each and every one of them.
The Cretan cuisine is one of foundation; not of complicated sauces. So the strength of Cretan food lies not in elaborate technique, but in the variety, and purity, of the local produce. It’s healthy, it’s super- fresh, simple, yet extremely palatable and downright delicious.
That’s why Cretan food ranks very high among the delights of holidaying on this sun-kissed island.
In fact, Cretan food might as well be a good enough reason to visit Crete on its own.
To whet your appetite a little further here’s what you’d be savoring every day in Crete:
Almost every Cretan village has its own signature cheese. Cheese is invariably eaten almost with every meal. There is certainly no shortage of cheeses in Crete and they are all sensational. Look out for graviera (gruyere) a harder, rich, and buttery cheese made from sheep or goat’s milk, that’s sweeter when new, but nutty and flavourful after aging; anthotiro, a sheep and goat cheese that’s mild and soft when it’s fresh but it turns hard as it dries out and mizithra, the typical fresh Cretan cheese made with milk and whey from sheep and/or goats with a lovely mild taste.
The quintessential, uber-popular Greek tidbit (mezes) made with barley rusks (paximadia), lightly soaked in water, drizzled with Crete’s liquid gold, the island’s trademark rich and thick extra virgin olive oil, topped with grated fresh tomato and myzithra cheese, and dusted with salt, oregano and pepper.
Fried snails (Chochlioi boubouristi)
Like the French, Cretans adore snails. And they have been doing so since time immemorial. In the Cretan dialect, chochlios means snail, and in this case, they are fried with flour and hot olive oil in a pan, then doused with wine (or vinegar) and sprinkled with a dash of wild rosemary.
Cretan Cheese Pies (Kaltsounia)
Crete’s cheese pies are unique. For starters, handmade pastry dough is a sine qua non. The fillings vary, it is usually myzithra or malaka cheese, but not feta. Also, they are often topped with thick Cretan honey, blending sweet and savoury in one heady mix.
Lamb with stamnagathi
Lamb in Crete is typically cooked with stamnagathi, a wild green that’s all the rage as of late, and avgolemono (an egg and lemon sauce), or, more simply, a squeeze of fresh lemon.
Gamos means ‘wedding’ in Greek and this rice dish is offered at traditional Cretan weddings (nowadays also in many restaurants). It is prepared in a rich meat broth made from goat, lamb or rooster; with a dash of lemon juice and liberal amounts of stakovoutiro – butter created from boiled fresh goat’s milk.
Mountain Bulbs (Askordoulakoi)
The strength of the Cretan diet lies in its ingredients which are often collected from hillsides and around villages. Askordoulakoi are the bulbs of a wild green, eaten as a fresh salad, dressed in oil and vinegar or lemon. They are also pickled or stewed with local olive oil, vinegar and flour.
Smoked Pork (Apaki)
A smoked pork delicacy with a distinctive aroma of local herbs – sage, bay, rosemary – served cold, in thin slices.
Sfakia pies (Sfakianes pites)
Hailing from the wild and untamed region of Sfakia in southern Crete, they look like pancakes, but flour aside, their dough contains olive oil and some fiery Cretan raki. These special pies contain various fresh, soft, local white cheeses like myzithra and accompanied with a drizzling of Cretan honey.
Cretan Brandy (Raki or Tsikoudia)
A Cretan trademark, this 40% proof spirit dates back to antiquity. In fact, archaeological evidence suggests that even the Minoans used to enjoy a similar beverage with their meals. Throughout the centuries raki has been used for a number of purposes, including medicinal. The secrets of its production are passed on from one generation to the other. Every autumn, after the harvest, raki is created from the residues of the grapes that have been pressed to make wine. When this process is complete, celebrations involving dancing, singing and copious amounts of the clear, potent drink, ensue in the distilleries, throughout Crete. Offered at the beginning and the ending of meals; in feasts and ceremonies; in sorrows and joys; as a welcome to friends and strangers; and pretty much in every manifestation of everyday life; much more than just a local product; the Cretan raki is embedded in the local culture and Cretan way of life. Not to be confused with ouzo, raki has no anise or any other herbs and is paired with mezes, olives or barley rusks and drunk neat.