How to Eat in Crete
While Greek favourites such as gyros and tzatziki are well known even to the average McDonalds-only consumer, dishes from the herb-heavy island of Crete are certainly not getting the reputation they deserve. This is Italian-standard cuisine, minus the waist-unfriendly carbs.
With the highest number of wild herbs naturally grown in the whole of Europe, the people of Crete have served up their herb-loaded and cheese filled dishes since the days of the Minotaur, and wax lyrical about their healing benefits and properties.
The star herbs on the island employed heavily in most Cretan dished are basil, oregano, sage, thyme, parsley, marjoram, fennel and dill. 1.5 million olive oil trees are also the reason you’ll rarely find a dish not drizzled or sizzling in it. (Don’t worry though, it’s good for you. Sort of).
So it could be time to stop visiting Gyro King, and get out there and into Cretan cooking. These items are the most likely, and most delicious, to appear on any good Greek restaurant menu:
Fasolakia: This dish is made by simmering green beans in a tomato sauce for around 50 minutes until they’re soft and have soaked up most of the juices. The sweetness of the tomatoes means any bitterness from the green beans is completely masked.
Psitos: This is a meat dish (usually pork) slow-cooked with potatoes in a traditional Cretan wood-burning oven.
Dakos: This is like Crete’s version of bruschetta. The base consists of oven-dried crisp breads made with barley, which makes them nuttier and crunchier than their wheat-only counterparts. They are then covered in ripe, sweet tomatoes, black olives and crumbled cheese. (Oh and olive oil, of course.)
Sarikopitakia: Sarikopitakia is one of the island’s most iconic dishes and takes its name from the scarf worn by local men on the island. They’re essentially delicious cheese-stuffed pastries, deep fried in olive oil.
Kalitsounia: Another pastry-fanatic’s dream, kalitsounia are similar to calzones (folded pizza), but are often much smaller, like empanadas. You’ll usually find them stuffed with white cheese (the most common of which is mizithra) and herbs. As with most things in Greece and Crete, the sweet version simply involves lathering the savoury cheese-filled version in honey.
Xerotigana: This is a party-based dessert made from flour, water and Cretan Raki, which is then drizzled with syrup made from thyme honey, sesame seeds and cinnamon. They are shaped into a spiral which resembles a rose, which is why they are also named “triantafillakia”, (meaning little roses).
Where to eat delicacies these in Crete:
Crete is all about home cooking and sharing, so the best places are those tiny, hard to find restaurants hidden off the beaten track.
In terms of where to stay to access the best restaurants, choose a hotel first and then simply rent a car to reach the culinary and cultural hotspots. The north of the island offers picturesque, quieter harbour towns whilst the south is where you’ll find the resorts.
Your first food stop should be the highly regarded Dounias (Ntounias) near Chania in the north. This restaurant is nestled up in the mountains with views out over the island, and offers the freshest cooking you’ll have during your trip (and I mean fresh – the lamb is often killed that day!)
Café Dimitris in Mochlos is great if you like the personal touch and friendly service. The fresh fish plate is huge and will change day to day, meaning you can keep going back!
Alekos in Rethymnon (a northern harbour town) is the kind of place that forgoes a menu in favour of bringing you whatever has been freshly cooked that day. Not having to choose means there’s an added element of surprise with each dish.
Been to any traditional Cretan restaurants in your area that have wowed you? Let us know!