When it comes to booking a holiday in Greece, many think of endless beaches, incredible weather, fascinating culture and, of course, local food. Crete, the largest of the Greek islands, is an amazing place for sampling an array of local dishes and wines. In Crete, there is a saying: ‘the happiness of a visitor is measured in the extra kilos they acquire during their time spent in Crete’. Cretan food is some of the most varied, exciting and alluring so there is no wonder why so many come back to enjoy this mystical island over and over again.
Crete is a perfect hub for olive oil, raki, cheeses, and wines. The weather and the soil play an important role in creating the right conditions for harvesting good ingredients. Skillful food makers passed on important knowledge over generations which now result in crafting products which have great taste, texture, and soul. Cretan food is about putting together love and sunshine, resulting in an explosion of Meditteranean tastes. Here’s the Crete food you must order during your next visit.
Crete is home to around 30 million olive trees which results in an abundant variety of olive oils. Cretans have been cultivating olive trees during the Minoan period in 3500 BC. Olive oil is a quintessential ingredient in local Cretan cuisine. Whether you taste olive oil with a little bread and salt, or you sample it on your salad or taste a ‘ladero’ dish, you will fall in love with its rich, slightly peppery taste. Nowadays you can even book tours to see how olive oil is made, which is a fantastic experience if you are interested in local Cretan culture.
Crete leads the world in cheese consumption. Spend one week in Crete and you will probably eat more cheese than ever before in your entire life. And that’s because Cretan cheeses come in a large variety and are heavily incorporated in local dishes.
Try Graviera Kritis, a Cretan cheese made from sheep’s milk which needs around 3-6 months to mature. You’ll find it rich and buttery. For something with a bit more texture to it, try Kefalotyri Kritis which needs around 3 months to mature. The result is slightly piquant. A hard to find treasure is also ‘kefalotyri tripas’ which is matured in caves of Psiloritis mountain for more than 14 months.
Xinomyzithra has been labeled as Protected Destination of Origin, so trying this white soft creamy cheese with a slightly sour taste (as the name suggests) is a must during your visit to Crete.
Alas, try the Pichtogalo Chanion, a cheese produced in the Western part of Crete. You’ll be enchanted by its velvety texture with a touch of tanginess.
When you enter a Cretan home (or a nice hotel like Legacy Gastro Suites) you will be welcomed with raki. Raki is an alcoholic drink popular in Greece as an aperitif. It can be drunk with meze and seafood or just drank on its own in social circumstances. In Crete, raki is made from grapes and it is usually flavored with honey and cinnamon. During the winter months, it can be served warm.
Don’t be surprised if when you enter a restaurant, you will start or end your meal with a shot of raki, usually, on the house!
Sarikopitakia or myzithropitakia
Did someone say fried cheesy pastries? Of course, you are excited! These delicious pastries can be eaten during breakfast, or as a nice pick-me-up snack during the day, or as a dessert topped with honey and cinnamon.
These savory small pies are named for their spiral shapes. Sariki, a Turkish word meaning “turban”. The name is also for a traditional headdress worn by Cretan men during celebrations.
History, culture and deliciousness, all in a bite of Sarikopitakia.
Kalitsounia or lichnarakia
Those are cheese pies, served with cinnamon on top. If you are lucky enough to visit a traditional Cretan home, you are guaranteed to find someone who knows how to make these to perfection. The locals use to serve it during the Easter holiday but also offer it as a typical Cretan dessert.
Ready for a bit of dessert? Try Loukoumades, small bite-sized fluffy honey doughnuts. These deep-fried delicacies are usually crispy, soaked in honey and sprinkled with cinnamon, walnuts and roasted sesame seeds. You can have them the traditional way which is with honey or even with caramel or chocolate sauce on top. With so much Cretan food to choose from, you can see why visiting this incredible island during diet time is simply impossible.
Snails with rosemary
I know what you are thinking: aren’t snails a French dish? Well, turns out Crete has its own local spin of snails, served with rosemary. This is a popular meze in Crete. Snails with rosemary ae done in a skillet with olive oil, a dash of vinegar and rosemary. This dish doesn’t call for blanching the snails before cooking them. The result is an extraordinary dish with texture, character and deep flavors.
Fresh fish with salad
It might not sound fancy at first, but let’s not forget that Crete is an island blessed with an array of fish varieties. So no matter your fancy, chances are, you’ll find the fish of your choice in Crete. When visiting a restaurant, ask for the fresh fillet of the day, accompanied by potatoes and a side of Cretan salad. You can either choose a big grilled Mediterranean fish (such as sea bream, swordfish, grey mullet or dente), or little fried fish such as barbounia (striped red mullets), sardines, sand smelts and anchovies (which works perfectly with ouzo). Don’t miss to taste the ‘kakavia’ soup coming from boiled scorpion fish.
Fish and chips have a different meaning in Cretan food: fresh cod with garlic mashed potatoes. The mash is creamy and it’s the perfect side dish for the crispy pan-fried cod. Just like the English recipes, the cod is battered and cooked to perfection before reaching your plate. The cod is normally served in smaller sizes so you can indulge in the crispy batter with every bite you take.
Interesting cultural fact: did you know that Mpakaliaros skordalia is the national Greek dish on the 25th of March? This marks the date of the Greek revolution against the Turks.
Greek lamb Fricassée
This interesting Cretan food is a mixture of lamb, lettuce and other greens cooked in avgolemono. It’s essentially a hearty stew which is a must during the colder months. This dish will warm your heart with its subtle sweetness and touch of tanginess from the lemon. Order it on a rainy day, or when you visit a mountain village in Crete. It will be the perfect dish.
It is made with carob powder which is usually a Mediterranean substitute for cocoa powder. The result is a bread with a subtle sweetness and a fuller texture. You should try an open sandwich with carob bread, served with local Cretan cheese and maybe (if you’re feeling adventurous) a splash of honey on the top.
An incredible meze, Greek fava is a staple in Cretan cuisine. So is Greek fava made from fava beans, similar to chickpea hummus? No, not really! It’s actually a paste made from yellow split peas. When you stay in Legacy Gastro Suite, you are just minutes away from the main port of Heraklion. You can be adventurous and take a day trip to Santorini, where you can even taste the “Santorini Fava” which is a Protected Designation of Origin product that comes from the plant “Lathyrus Clymenum L.” This plant has been grown in Santorini for over 3500 years.
Stuffed zucchini flowers with feta cheese
This beautiful dish takes only five minutes to make, so you can find it as an appetizer in several restaurants. It’s a great summer dish when you need a refreshing and easy to process dish.
To make stuffed zucchini flowers (or blossoms) you need to mix Greek yogurt, cheese, fresh mint and egg to make the filling. Simply fill the blossoms with the above ingredients and dip them in egg white and flour for a crispy texture. Fry them for about two minutes on each side.
What’s on the menu today? Strawberry jam with a chocolate twist? Local marmalades with a hint of spices? No matter your preference, you’ll find something in the Cretan pantries to satisfy your taste for sweet jams. With so much sunshine year-round, you can imagine that fruits in Crete taste sweet and fresh, resulting in some of the most flavorsome jams. Take one home as a souvenir too!
Semolina pudding “Chalva”
This is a staple dessert for any Cretan who celebrates their childhood memories with their grandparents. Semolina pudding is made with semolina, water, sugar, olive oil, roasted almond or pine nuts and dried raisins and usually topped with glazed sugar, cocoa powder or cinnamon. It’s a quick and healthy dessert to make which tastes incredible. Try it, ask for the recipe from the chef, and make it for your own kids when you get home. We guarantee it will be a new dinner hit.
For meat lovers out there, Kreatotourta is a meat pie from Chania, usually made during Easter. Traditionally, this pie is made with three types of Cretan cheese as well, so the mixture will be a savory blend of meat and cheese packed in a thin crust, baked to perfection to achieve the right level of crispiness. Try it with some cinnamon, anise and roasted sesame on top! It is delicious! Are you coming to Crete during Easter?
Stamnagkathi is a type of Cretan salad made with local greens. This is a great side dish which can be served with sardines, grilled meat or fish. It can also be eaten on its own as a light appetizer, with olive oil and lemon dressing.
Stamnagathi is a wild chicory variety with spiny leaves that can be found on the island of Crete. It is considered to be a Cretan secret for well being and longevity.
If you are still looking for the perfect meze, try the famed Ntakos which consists of a slice of soaked dried bread topped with chopped tomatoes, cheese and flavored with local Cretan herbs. You can have it with a bit of olive or pepper on top too.
If you are looking for the best meat-based dish then we need to talk about Antikristo. This is not so much about the name of the dish itself, but the cooking method which literally means cooking across the fire. This is still a well-preserved cooking method in the mountain villages of Crete. It is a lamb dish and all you need is fire and salt. Place lots of salt around the lamb and then put it around the fire (antikristo means ‘facing the fire’). The idea is that the lamb is not in contact with the fire directly, but across it. This slow cooking method will make the meat incredibly tender, while the salt’s purpose is to dehydrate, resulting in a perfectly crispy skin.
It was first introduced by shepherds who invented a convenient cooking procedure. It is not directly placed on the fire, it is slowly cooked and therefore requires little attention, allowing the shepherd to continue with his daily work.
Which is your favorite Cretan food? Tell us which of these dishes you are most eager to try during your next holiday to Crete.