Trying new cultural foods is always one of the top things to do on my list when traveling. Locals say that Cretan food is the best food in all of Greece, and after having spent one month in Greece, I would say that this statement is accurate. My only complaint is that there is little variety. There are a handful of classic Cretan dishes that every restaurant serves a bit differently, and since there aren’t many immigrants here, you will see nothing but Greek food. I have never missed Chinese food, sushi and Mexican food so much!
In Greece, restaurants are called tavernas and they are located in every mountainous village, coastal harbor or on a random road side somewhere all over the island. No matter how remote the area is, you are guaranteed to find a taverna serving delicious home-cooked fare at decent prices (between €5 – €15 for mains), and usually run by a multi-generation family. When we visited in July, we never drove more than one hour without seeing a taverna that was open and ready to serve us. However, this may be different during the winter season, as many family businesses close down when there are fewer tourists.
If you are a vegetarian, you might have a difficult time in Greece. If you eat seafood, then your chances of finding food that will suit your needs are much greater, however, vegans may need to fly in their own food to sustain themselves here. 😉 Greeks are meat-eaters (mostly lamb, pork and chicken). We didn’t see a single cow on Crete, but we did see plenty of goats, which are also used for consumption. In the way of vegetables (in July anyway), it seemed that all that was available was: eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and of course olives. You can assume that olive oil will be drizzled generously over everything and used to cook and season all foods. Greek fare is healthy and pure, unlike in America, where many restaurants use terrible oils such as palm and corn.
Most meals are served with bread to start (usually at no extra cost, but be careful in the touristy areas where they give it to you but don’t tell you that there’s an extra charge.) This happened to us only once in Chania Harbor, where they tried to charge €2 for bread we didn’t touch. I had him remove the charge from our bill since he didn’t notify us. Olive oil and vinegar are always at the table so you can go as crazy as you’d like with it and nobody will judge you.
Nearly every starter and main are served with a fresh lemon, usually from their tree somewhere nearby. Most mains are served with fries. Even though they’re fresh cut from locally-grown potatoes, they still aren’t the healthiest option. Feel free to ask for vegetables instead of potatoes. Most places will understand and not charge anything extra for the substitution.
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Here are 12 Foods you Must Try in Crete
1. Local cheese
Similar to Russia’s tvorog, this is a fresh unpasteurized cheese usually from goat’s or sheep’s milk. This one was on the house included in our meal.
2. Greek Salad
Honestly, it’s hard to screw up a Greek salad (wait a minute, wouldn’t you just call it “salad” here?) In Greece it is called Xoriatiki. Eight simple ingredients: largely diced tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, green peppers (sometimes), fresh olives, lemon juice, olive oil and a huge block of feta dusted with oregano. This is Sasha’s favorite dish probably in the whole world, and he would eat two per day (one for lunch, one for dinner). The onion breath was getting out of hand, so he started ordering them sans onions when he found out that was the only way I would kiss him. 😉
3. Cretan Rusk Salad
Rusk is twice-baked bread, similar to a biscuit and very hard and crunchy. It is topped with tomato puree, special Cretan cheese, dried olives (those are olives, not raisins) and of course, olive oil.
Each restaurant makes it a bit differently, but it’s basically yogurt, cucumber, lemon and spices. Some were better than others and no recipe is the same.
5. Dolma (stuffed grape leaves)
Most people will be familiar with this food as it has long ago made its way to other countries. They are typically stuffed with ingredients such as: rice, onions or minced meat.
6. Saganaki (fried cheese)
If you like cheese, you’ll love this.
7. Escargot (snails)
I’m not a fan, but I’ll try most things once, especially if it’s coated in rosemary and butter!
8. Dish of the Day
Your best bet for the freshest food is to inquire what their dish of the day is. Unlike in America where this can mean whatever is getting old and they have to get rid of, the dish of the day on Crete is actually what they are making best and most fresh that day (I’m talking just caught that morning, or just slaughtered that week and is currently roasting on the fire in their kitchen in the back.) Be prepared for a lot of lamb dishes. Below is an eggplant and vegetable stew in tomato sauce.
This dish of the day was smoked pork.
9. Stewed Rabbit
This one was the best meals of our entire time on Crete Island, and one that I was hesitant to order. This is stewed rabbit in olive oil and rosemary, and was the best-tasting meat I’ve had in my whole life. Tender, juicy and incredibly flavorful. I figured there’s enough rabbits procreating in the world, right?
10. Sea Bream
Sea bream is a typical fresh-caught white fish. They do Italian pretty well, too!
Chocolate is not a big thing here. But honey and fruit are, and that’s much healthier. 🙂 Growing up eating what I thought was authentic Greek food in America, I had this notion that baklava would be super easy to find in Crete. While Greeks have adopted this dessert, the origin of this delicious honey and pistachio-filled dessert actually comes from Turkey, but the Greeks adopted their own recipe. The only place I could find home-made baklava was at a bakery, which were a rare sight. I expected the tavernas to have it, but they mostly served ice cream (which was good too!)
After every meal, the waiter will bring out some sort of free dessert “on the house”. This usually consists of yogurt, honey, fresh fruit and raki.
Raki is vodka made from grapes. It is extremely strong and a great way to cleanse the palate. And they don’t just bring you a shot glass, they bring you an entire bottle that you may drink none of or all of, it’s up to you. And it’s all FREE!
Ouzo is an anise aperitif and a traditional Greek alcoholic beverage that is very strong! It is typically served after a meal with dessert, but sometimes they bring it at the start of a meal. It is meant to cleanse the palate.
Throughout our time in Greece, eating the Mediterranean diet was really good for our bodies. We felt healthy, never bloated, and didn’t get that 2:00 PM knack attack sleepiness.
Have you been to Crete? What were some of your favorite foods?
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