One of the world’s healthiest cuisines
The Cretan diet is renowned as one of the healthiest in the world. Characterised by fresh home-grown produce, simplicity and flavour, Cretan cuisine is an integral part of the wider Greek culture. Traditional dishes and mealtimes embody the real family feel of the Mediterranean culture. Cretan cuisine incorporates a number of speciality dishes related to each region, of which the local people are extremely proud. Some of the island’s famous dishes even have different names according to where on the island you are eating!
For the love of food
The island of Crete is intrinsically linked to its food through the acres of fertile land that harvest fresh crops. The seasonal diet stretches back many years and has gradually adapted to the more modern way of living: however, tradition still dominates. Cretan cuisine is characterised by beans and pulses, fish, seafood, herbs, olive oil, yoghurt and honey. Fresh fruit and vegetables are also available year-round. Grapes are used in both wines and desserts while citrus trees grow fresh fruit that is often used to flavour meat dishes. Figs and pomegranates grow in abundance during autumn while the apricot and watermelon crops are plentiful and delicious.
Herbs play a crucial role in Cretan cuisine and more than 30 types of aromatic wild herbs grow in the local countryside and are used as toppings in salads, to make herbal tea and flavour meat. Visitors will also be hard pushed to find a dish that doesn’t contain olive oil, perhaps in a nod to Crete’s 1.5 million olive trees. As one of the purest and natural forms of olive oil, the so-called Cretan liquid gold is exceptionally good for long-term health.
Cheesy does it
Among an array of traditional Cretan dishes, fasolakia is a standout dish. It could be considered an emblem of Cretan cuisine due to its fresh ingredients and simple recipe that consists of fresh beans, crushed tomato and olive oil. Paximadia is also a traditional part of the local diet – a bread that is twice-baked with barley or chickpea and topped with herbs such as cinnamon and aniseed. Paximadia is also the main ingredient in dakos, a salad that also contains tomatoes, crumbled feta or mizithra cheese and olives topped with a selection of herbs.
Mizithra is made of sheep’s milk and is one of the main cheeses found in local dishes, such as the delicious snack kalitsounia – stuffed pastry crust. In Crete’s capital, Chania, it is served savoury and stuffed with mild cheese and herbs while elsewhere there is a sweetened version with honey on top.
Cretan cooking techniques traditionally use slow cooking for the freshest cuisine. Red meat is an essential feature, and a dish that is exclusive to Crete is apaki (smoked pork). The lean meat is seasoned with local herbs, marinated and slow cooked in a wood-burning oven to create an aromatic and flavourful dish. Some prefer to cure the pork in vinegar for up to two days before cooking.
“Don’t look for a pill that can substitute for the Cretan diet.
There is no such thing.”
Meat dishes are typically made with pork, rabbit, chicken or lamb using classic recipes with minimal ingredients and fantastic flavour. Traditional options will see the main meat cooked with wine, stuffed with cheese, baked with tomato or simply flavoured with herbs, such as rabbit cooked in lemon juice with thyme or pork served with celery. Beans, both dried and fresh, are a staple part of the diet and a typical side dish. Vegetarians should sample the sofegada; a delicious stew made up of tomatoes, spring onions and an assortment of vegetables, flavoured with olive oil, salt, pepper and white wine. Main meals are usually complemented by a glass of tsikoudia – a grape brandy that is distilled in local villages across the island, or perhaps a bottle of the local sweet wine.
Across the island, there are traditional tavernas offering the finest and freshest local cuisine. For a more modern yet totally authentic experience, a visit to the Calypso & Wine Cellar at the Elounda Peninsula All Suite Hotel, will tantalise the taste buds. This exclusive hotel is renowned for having the finest restaurant in the whole of Greece with a Michelin-starred chef at the helm. After a sumptuous feast, there is the chance to relax in the privacy of your seafront suite, recline at the private beach or indulge in some pampering at the Six Senses Spa.
And to top it all off with something sweet, try the local patouda – a delectable dessert made with milk, local wine, eggs, coffee, nutmeg, honey, sesame seeds and almond sprinkled with icing sugar for a traditional taste sensation. As Serge Renaud famously said: “Don’t look for a pill that can substitute for the Cretan diet.
There is no such thing.”