“Cretan cuisine is one of a foundation, not of complicated sauces. Its strength lies in the quality and freshness of its ingredients, the use of wild herbs and greens, and purity of taste. And not to be forgotten, the copious use of olive oil, Crete’s liquid gold ” – Uncornered market
We visited Greece for 6 weeks last summer and we appreciated the food then, but, now? A whole new appreciation! No wonder it’s said the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest diets in the world. After spending 2 weeks in Crete, I think we both agreed that Cretan food is by far one of our favourite cuisines to indulge in worldwide.
Crete has one of the oldest and most delicious gastronomic traditions in the world. Sure, it’s similar to the rest of Greece, but there’s something unique and special about the Cretan way of cooking. It’s healthy, it’s fresh (so fresh!), simple, yet extremely flavourful and of course, downright delicious. There wasn’t a meal we didn’t love on this island and we thoroughly enjoyed sampling our way through some of Cretan’s classic dishes, along with making our own homemade Greek Salads with the fresh produce from the markets.
- The average olive oil consumption in Germany and the United States runs about 0.5 litres/person annually. In Crete, it’s 25 litres per person, per year.
- Cretans eat the largest quantities of fruit and vegetables in the Western world.
- The tomatoes of Crete contain large quantities of antioxidant substances. Why? They are all ripened naturally without the use of any hormones.
- You’ll very rarely find cows in Crete or even Greece for that matter. They can’t handle the rocky terrain. More commonly you will find sheep and goats and the traditional cheeses are made with their milk.
- Crete features over 1.5 million olive trees – :O
- It is recorded that over 500 different types of greens and herbs are used raw in salads or cooked in small and large pies in various ways.
- Raki (famous local drink) is for Crete what ouzo is for the rest of Greece.
- At most restaurants, after every meal, you are offered grapes/fruit and a small dessert on the house. No need to order more dessert 🙂
Alright, back to the good stuff…
10 Must Try Foods in Crete
Below is a list of dishes you should try when you visit this island. Don’t expect over the top fancy dishes, instead, pay attention to the quality of the food and the flavours that each of them includes.
1. Olive Oil
Olive oil is referred to as ‘Liquid Gold’ in Crete. Nothing is cooked without it. Meats, salads, cheeses, vegetables & bread. Everything is doused in it and it is phenomenal. Driving back from our day trip to Elafonissi, we could smell the olives for km’s. You can buy Olive Oil from absolutely everywhere and in all different shapes and sizes. Whilst most souvenir stores around the world are selling shot glasses, sweatshirts or magnets, in Crete you’ll find shelves and shelves of Olive Oils. It’s a perfect souvenir to bring back for family and friends.
Apart from the Cretan Salad, these were my favourite! Chopped tomato, fresh cheese, herbs and olive oil placed on top of a Paximadi (rusk). There is just enough olive oil to make them soft but without taking away the crunch of the base. I’d eat these over bruschetta any day!
3. Cretan Cheeses
There is certainly no shortage of cheese in Crete. I think we had it with every meal but there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
I first noticed the difference when the Greek Salad I ordered came with a local soft cheese as opposed to the classic feta cheese. Don’t panic, feta is still widely eaten in Crete!
The most popular cheeses eaten in Crete are:
- Anthotiros, a sheep and goat cheese that’s mild and soft when it’s fresh but it turns hard as it dries out. Most commonly used to sprinkle on pasta dishes.
- Kefalotiri is primarily of sheep’s’ milk, however, they do mix both sheep and goat. The cheese is hard and the flavour is salty, strong and somewhat fatty.
- Mizithra, the typical fresh cheese of Crete made with milk and whey from sheep and/
- Graviera, a classic hard cheese of Crete that is usually made with sheep’s milk. It is rich and full of butter. It can be eaten alone, with biscuits, on bread or cooked in pies.
4. Sarikopitakia (Cheese Pie)
Sheep’s cheese-filled pastries fried in olive oil and served warm with a sprinkle of honey on top. They get their name from the shape of the scarf the local men wear on the west of the island.
5. Kalitsounia (Cheese Pie)
Kalitsounia pies are most commonly eaten at Easter, however, you will still find them throughout the year on the island in all different shapes. The pastry is carefully handmade and shaped into tiny cups and filled with a sweet cheese. The cheese type can change depending on what region of Crete you are in (feta is the only cheese not used inside) and can be either baked or fried and often sprinkled with cinnamon or sesame seeds. They tasted similar to a custard doughnut!
Loukoumades are fried dough served with ice cream, nuts & honey. After we had already finished our 3-course meal, the restaurant we celebrated our wedding anniversary at comes out with this dessert “on the house!”. Sure enough, we finished the entire thing in record time. It would be rude to waste it…wouldn’t it?
7. Fried Snails (Chochlioi Boubouristi)
Ok, we never tried this. We’re all about trying new foods but they didn’t make the cut in France and we couldn’t bring ourselves to do it in Crete either, however, they are extremely popular. Once the women catch the snails, they are fried with flour and hot olive oil in a pan then doused with wine and are ready to eat….hmmm, maybe next time.
8. Cretan Salad
This salad is quite similar to the classic Greek Salad, however, the Cretan Salad is served with a soft cheese as opposed to Feta and with Paximadi. Depending on where you eat it there can be a few added extras such as zucchini, egg, potato. There are usually at least 2 whole tomatoes along with it…
Gamopilafo means “rice of the wedding”. This dish is primarily served at weddings or traditional events throughout Greece but nowadays you can often find it in restaurants. It consists of meat and poultry boiled for hours accompanied by rice that is cooked with butter and lemon. In Crete, they love to use their local products such as the goat or lamb. Unfortunately, we didn’t get around to trying this dish but it is definitely one of the most popular and one of the most expensive dishes on most menus, especially for rice.
10. Lamb Stamnankáthi
One of the most popular meats to eat on the Island is Lamb. Jacob’s all time favourite. Lamb with Stamnankáthi is a staple dish purely because the herb only grows in Crete. It is slightly bitter but still has an enjoyable taste. It is usually served boiled, with olive oil and lemon and accompanies lamb dishes very well.
Paximadi, also known as rusks are the traditional Cretan way of preserving bread for a long time. These small hard pieces of bread are cooked over and over and are softened when water or olive oil are added to it. You will find them in various shapes & sizes. They can be made from wheat or barley, with or without yeast, sourdough or whole grain. These are the base for the “dakos” we mentioned above and are often served before your meal. Douse it in olive oil and give it a go!
Raki is an alcoholic beverage that is served after a meal in Crete, usually on the house. It is made in Autumn after the grapes are harvested. It comes from by-products created from the winemaking process. Once the grapes are pressed and the juice is stored to begin fermenting, you’re left with a lot of “leftovers”. Without letting anything go to waste, the remainder of the skins, twigs etc is stored for around six weeks before it is distilled into Raki. Tada, now you have Raki.
In the grocery store, you can find it in clear bottles that can easily be mistaken for water. If we were honest, the taste is not amazing. The flavoured raki is much more enjoyable to drink, our favourite being pomegranate and least favourite, rose. The rose raki tastes like you’ve drunk the bath water after soaking in rose petals for 24 hours.
More Greek Classic Dishes
Although not Cretan, here are more traditional classic Greek dishes you must try!
Moussaka is an eggplant or potato-based dish that often includes ground meat and a touch of cinnamon. It is a very popular dish to eat in Greece and almost every menu will have it on there. In Greece, they include both layers of meat, eggplant and potato before topping it with a Béchamel (white) sauce. It is then baked and served in a clay pot.
Deep fried cheese? Is there anything more delicious! Saganaki is usually graviera, kefalograviera, halloumi, kasseri, kefalotyri, or feta cheese. The name comes from the type of pan that the cheese is cooked in. It is usually served with lemon juice and bread.
Greek Yoghurt + Honey + Fruits/Nuts
Yoghurt and fruits are our staple breakfast wherever we are in the world but my gosh, the yoghurt that Greece produces is #1. We went through almost 5kg of Greek Yoghurt in the 2 weeks we spent on the Island and never once did we get tired of it. In fact, I was trying to find a way to smuggle some into Nepal! Top your yoghurt with fresh fruits, nuts and honey bought from a local producer and you’re good to go… Ahhh so good.
Tzatziki is a Greek sauce made from strained yoghurt mixed with cucumbers, garlic, salt, olive oil (surprise surprise). This can be added to meats, pita bread, rusks or used as a dip for fresh vegetables. Be prepared for the lingering garlic taste afterwards 😉
Known as a “kebab” to us in Australia. A souvlaki is a skewer of meat (usually chicken or pork) and sometimes grilled vegetables. As a main dish, it is usually served with french fries, pita bread or roasted potatoes.
I think these taste better at 2 am than they do on a regular day but either way, they are a very cheap way to grab a bite to eat in Greece (2.50-4 €). You can get them in a pita or served on a plate with either pork or chicken and sometimes vegetarian. Don’t forget to ask to be generous with the Tzatziki, it makes all the difference 🙂
If you don’t come to Crete for the beaches or the hikes, then come purely for the food 🙂 OK, now I’m hungry. Luckily, we’re still here while we write this post so it’s only natural we head out and find something delicious to eat… Cheese Pie? I think so…Nom Nom.
Married Days Survived; 532