Cretan cuisine is one of 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.
A very typical Cretan dish. Rusks, a traditional dried bread that is baked several times and kept for months, is moistened in a bit of water, and topped with grated tomato, olive oil, cheese and oregano. Crunchy, light and full of flavor, it makes a perfect snack.
There’s certainly no shortage of cheese on Crete. Among the main varieties you’ll find: anthotiros, a sheep and goat cheese that’s mild and soft when it’s fresh and salty and earthy when hard; kefalotiri, a firm sheep or goat cheese, and mizithra, the typical fresh cheese of Crete made from sheep’s milk (and when made from goat’s milk it’s called katsikithia).
Graviera, the typical hard cheese of Crete is usually made with sheep’s milk. Although the name sounds suspiciously like gruyere, graviera is nothing like its Swiss sister namesake. Also delicious when fried and served hot.
Cretan Main Dishes
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).
Chochlioí Boumpouristoí. Snails or “choclioi” is the most popular dish of the Cretan diet! This traditional Cretan recipe is combined with rakí, the traditional local drink and good company. The word “boumpouristoí” comes from another Cretan word, the “ampoumpoura” meaning “prone”. Snails, after dipped in flour, are fried in olive oil and accompanied by rosemary and vinegar.
Cretan Rice. A rich, filling staple of Cretan weddings. Cretan wedding rice is made by boiling a side of sheep (we’re told older sheep are better for this dish) for hours and hours so that the meat becomes fall-off-the-bone tender. Served with rice cooked in sheep broth. It may sound boring, but the richness and depth of flavor will surprise you.
Tsigariastó. 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.
Raki. It’s hard to visit Crete without drinking raki — a couple of times a day. Although raki is made in the same way as Italian grappa – from the remains of grapes (pits/skins) – it is fortunately smoother and less potent. And, it’s almost always served with food like savory little snacks or dessert.
Cretan Wine. Crete is one of the Greece’s biggest wine producers. Most of the wine that we tried was of the local village homemade variety. While most of it was acceptable table wine, it didn’t strike us as exceptional. However, one of our guides gave us a bottle of her husband’s red wine and we were convinced that Cretan wine could, in fact, be truly excellent.
Herbal Tea. In the middle of the day or at its end, look for herbal teas. Never thought you could make wild oregano tea? You can, and it’s nice. Mix and match herbs, or better yet, let your knowledgeable host do it for you. And stay on the look out for malotera, or mountain tea. A great way to keep your body hydrated and refreshed as you eat your way around the island.