locally produced ingredients of exceptional quality
The unique Cretan Diet is a healthy and tasty diet with centuries-old recipes and modern creative versions, which are always cooked, of course, with the same top quality pure products of the blessed Cretan earth. This diet is not just a variety of dishes presented on the table; it embodies a whole philosophy of life, the quality way of life of the Cretan people. The lucky ones that will visit the modern restaurants in the cities or the small taverns and cafes in the country will have wonderful experiences, participating in the life of the local people.
Crete is a world renounced, glorious island with incredible flavors and a superb local cuisine that is shockingly lacking a real ambassador of its flavors in the international food scene. Despite the well known, scientifically supported health benefits of the Cretan diet, the beauty of the Cretan dishes are nowhere to be found next to popular cuisines, such as the Italian, the French or the Japanese.
Cretan Food Specialties You Must Try
One of the island’s most famous offerings, dakos, is a Cretan meze consisting of a slice of barley rusk topped with chopped tomatoes, crumbled mizithra or feta cheese and flavored with herbs, such as dried oregano. Olives and capers are optional. The rusk is usually soaked in water, depending on preference, while the moisture of the juicy tomatoes and olive oil give it a fluffy texture that keeps it fresh and delicious. The simple, yet tasty, dish was named after the homonym traditional Cretan rusk, which is one of the most fundamental ingredients of not only this meal but also the traditional Cretan diet. The mention of rusk can be found in ancient writing, carrying the name ‘paximadi’, from Paxamos, a gastronomic writer of the Roman era. Rusk was perceived to be the bread of the poor, having the ability to be maintained for a long time, due to the lack of moisture the excessive roasting at low temperatures granted. In Crete, an island primarily occupied by sailors, shepherds and farmers, dakos’ durability established it as a fundamental food in the locals’ diet, a position it still holds to this day. Dakos is also known as koukouvayia, which translates to ‘owl’ in Greek, while in eastern Crete it is called kouloukopsomo (from koulouki and psomi, meaning ‘puppy’ and ‘bread’, allegedly the bread given to puppies).
Stamnankáthi are herbs that have a bit bitter but pleasant taste. It is a type of special and it is very difficult to gather. This plant grows only in Crete. It is usually served boiled, with olive oil and lemon and it can also be combined with eggs or meat.
Chaniotiko bouréki is a special zucchini-potato pie made especially in Chania. The basic ingredients are zucchini (pumpkin variety), potatoes and myzíthra cheese (a type of Cretan cheese). All these may be covered by a sheet of pastry. So if you are planning to visit Chania, do not miss the opportunity to taste this delicious summer dish!
This is where we want you to keep an open mind. Although not for the faint-hearted, snails can be found in some of the most sophisticated and expensive dishes of international, world-renowned cuisines. In Crete, snails, also known as ‘chochlioi’, have been an integral part of the gastronomic culture of the locals since ancient times. Today, they are a widespread delicacy, usually served fried, or boubouristi, the best way for someone to experience snails, according to the locals. The word boubouristi comes from another word of the Cretan dialect, abouboura, which means ‘face-down’; a direct reference to the way they are cooked. The snails are being collected every year from February to April, after rain, and can be cooked until September. The classic way to make chochlioi boubouristi is by following this process: after washing the snail shells thoroughly, you put them in a frying pan and sprinkle them with plenty of salt. After their juices have dried off, you add oil to the pan and fry them face-down. Lastly, you turn off the stove and add vinegar and rosemary; your house will smell heavenly! Snails’ meat is not only a treat for your taste buds, but for your health as well. It’s low in calories and fats while being high in organic nutrients, essential amino acids, and valuable fatty acids. Don’t hesitate to try this local flavor; eat chochlioi boubouristi accompanied with a generous serving of raki, the traditional spirit of Crete!
This traditional dish of western Crete has migrated across the island, because of its delicious taste. Its basic ingredient is Cretan goat or lamb, cooked in olive oil. The meat is of high quality and it is cooked at a very low temperature for a long time. Years ago, the locals used the meat of the Cretan wild goat known to most as Kri-Kri, in order to make this Cretan food. Today Kri-Kri is a protected species as it threatened with extinction so its hunting is banned.
Gamopilafo, with its name deriving from the combination of the words ‘gamos’ and ‘pilafi’ -translating to ‘wedding’ and ‘rice’ in Greek- is a traditional Greek wedding dish served in most regions of Crete as the celebratory main course. It is essentially a lamb broth risotto, usually served with pieces of slow-cooked lamb, and for many, the ultimate Greek comfort food. The history behind gamopilafo is unclear. According to urban myth, it is most likely the remnant of the Venetian occupancy of the island. Yet, the similarity gamopilafo holds to risotto, leaves open the possibility for the dish having both western (risotto) and eastern (pilav) origins. Therefore, gamopilafo is most probably a consolidation of Venetian and Eastern traditions, with the addition of elements taken from Turkish cuisine, due to the Ottoman rule. Despite its several cultural influences, gamopilafo’s flavor is characteristically Cretan, mirroring the island’s heritage and dynamic. It’s a fairly easy recipe, using only a few ingredients, with its mind-blowing flavor being achieved by the meat’s high quality and the pungent aroma of the goat-milk butter, also known as ‘staka’. Gamopilafo can take up to 3 hours to cook, including preparation time, but it is worth every second of it!
The “apáki” is made from pork in Anogia of Crete. It is first marinated for two or three days in strong vinegar made of Cretan wine. Then it is smoked with aromatic herbs and wrapped in a layer of spices and herbs in order to obtain aromatic taste. It can be eaten as it is or to warm up for a few minutes in the pan, in the oven or on the grill. It can even be added to an oily food such as green beans or bean soup or used on pizza instead of other meats, giving it a great flavor.
Cuttlefish with Fennel and Olives
This Cretan specialty is one of the most traditional Cretan foods. It is usually cooked during Lent, a period that fennels grow in the Cretan countryside spreading their wonderful aromas. Cuttlefish with fennel is an incredible delicious combination, complemented by the olives with their slightly sour taste. Whether you choose wine or ouzo to accompany this dish, you will definitely enjoy it.
Kalitsounia are small Cretan cheese or herb pies, near and dear to all Greek hearts. They can be salty, either with a filling of local mizithra cheese or an assortment of local herbs. More often than not, however, kalitsounia are sweet, stuffed with a sugary mixture of mild mizithra cheese -sometimes even replaced by Italian mascarpone or ricotta cheese- and topped with honey. Kalitsounia used to be a holiday tradition on the island. Nowadays, however, this fluffy and highly addictive delicacy is being consumed throughout the year in every part of the country. Arguably, kalitsounia is one of the tastiest and most versatile local dishes of Crete. The small pies can be eaten as a snack, as a light meal or as dessert; they can hold square, triangular, semi-circular or round shapes; they can consist of various fillings, salty or sweet; they can be fried or baked in the oven or on a satsi, a piece of metal resting on a tripod and placed on charcoals or on the fire. No matter how they’re cooked and what they’re made of though, they all have a common denominator: they are finger-licking good!
Marathópita is a delicious pie, cooked with a little bit oil in the pan. It is a traditional Crete food but can be found throughout the island. The pie is filled with fresh fennel, which gives wonderful flavor to this recipe. Spinach, sorrel and fresh onion are usually added in the pie.
To elevate your appetite and flavor, you can combine your Cretan meal with a glass of Cretan wine or rakí !