Guide: Cretan Cuisine: Culinary Tips

When taking a trip to Crete for business or holidays knowing the local cuisine is an important part of your stay. Crete has it's own dishes that the island is famous for and the local traditional tavernas serve these up with care and at a very reasonable price. To find the best most genuine local cuisine it's often best to move away from the tourist strip and central areas and head to the side streets or the suburbs to find the most authentic. Even though the tourist trap restaurants are reasonably priced in most cases the tavernas in these areas will serve a menu that is designed for an international pallet. So if your looking for the real deal drive up into the hills take a walk along the quieter roads and look for tavernas where the locals are eating.



Traditional Taverna

Cretan food is not spicy and has a heritage going back hundreds of years. From the Cretan style bruchetta called 'Dakos' to fried snails the dishes are largely based around the local olive oil which is some of the best in the whole Mediterranean. Cheese pies can be found all over Greece but Cretan cheese pies are something a little bit special made with the local myzithra. Lamb is a popular meat in Crete and combined with stamnagathi (wild greens) makes for a tasty dinner. Gamopilafo is a luxury Cretan risotto often served at village weddings and can be found in the real local tavernas, whilst Askordoulakous (wild mountain bulbs) are harvested and eaten as a salad with the famous olive oil.

Seafood is a massive part of the local diet too and if you can imagine it you'll find it served up here with all of the traditional local trimmings, and if you'd like to try a little bit of it all then why not opt for meze? You'll find kafeneios and tavernas offering the smaller plates in all of the major towns in Crete and the waiter will usually give you a piece of paper with the menu on and you just mark in the box against which of the dishes you'd like to try. If your in a group this is always a good choice as you can fill the table with a plethora of dishes and have a little bit of everything. In Cretan tavernas it's often customary to provide diners with free dessert too and when having meze I've always enjoyed the delicious Loukoumades served with chopped nuts, honey and ice cream. The little doughnut like balls are a spectacular explosion in the mouth and finish the evening perfectly... along with a customary bottle of two of the local raki of course!!


Cretan Meze


If all of this food is a bit too far out there for your palette you will find all the famous Greek dishes that you might be familiar with. Moussaka, pastitsio, spinach Pies, grilled meats with potatoes, Greek salad and much more. And if it's fast food that you are after then refreshingly you wont find many of the international chains on the island as Cretans and Greeks are passionate about supporting local businesses. Instead head to the local Psitopoleio (grill house) for gyros. A Greek kebab with pork or chicken rolled in a thick rustic pita bread with yogurt, onions, tomatoes and fries. Or take advantage of the delicious Greek burgers (bifteki) that can also come in a pita. You'll find pork or chicken souvlaki too (on skewers) if that takes your fancy. A gyros from a local grill will cost no more than 4.50 euros and is enough to fill you up as a main meal, and whilst not the most healthy diet to live on daily on occasion is really hits the spot.


Pita Gyros

If all of the above is just too much and you want to eat as if at home don't panic you'll find it all in Crete. Maybe not the famous chains that you know from in your own country but there are burgers chains with Goody's being the most famous Greek outlet along with pizza, pasta, and even Chinese and Indian restaurants in the more tourist rich areas. And if it's a big fry up or even a roast dinner on a Sunday in the major holiday resorts you'll find restaurants to satisfy your craving.

Crete has a something for everyone when it comes to cuisine. If it's McDonalds you are after then you'll be disappointed in all but a couple of places but this affords a wonderful opportunity to explore the local culinary scene and by golly is it tasty.