Cretan dishes – a celebration of traditional Greek flavors. Cretan cuisine is a significant part of the Mediterranean diet, known for its health benefits. More specifically, the dishes are primarily based on locally sourced, fresh ingredients that are rich in nutrients and flavor. Τhe island’s mountainous terrain and mild climate provide the ideal conditions for the cultivation of a variety of herbs and vegetables. Moreover, they reflect the island’s long history and culture with an influence of a wide range of civilizations, including the ancient Minoans, Venetians and Ottomans. One bite is enough to make you understand that Cretan food is a way of life.
Read the article below and find out the best Cretan dishes you should try during your holidays!
Ntakos – One of the most iconic Cretan dish. A simple yet delicious salad made of barley rusk, tomatoes, feta cheese and olive oil. The rusk is soaked in water and then topped with the other ingredients, creating a mouthwatering combination of flavors and textures. Ntakos is a perfect example of Cretan cuisine’s focus on simplicity and quality ingredients. You can enjoy it as a light meal or as a meze, a small dish served as an appetizer. Give it a try during the hot days of summer with a cold glass of ouzo or beer.
Picture by: Grigorios Moraitis
Cretan Salad – another famous dish of the island. It consists of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and green peppers. The toppings are olive oil, vinegar and feta cheese or the traditional cheese mitzithra. The salad can be a side dish or as a light meal and it is an excellent way to enjoy the fresh flavors of the island’s produce.
Kalitsounia – probably the most popular Cretan dish throughout the island
It is a small, crescent-shaped pie with a mixture of fresh cheese, herbs and spices. The pastry is a thin dough and then filling it with the cheese mixture before folding it into a crescent shape and baking it in the oven. Kaltsounia can be a sweet or savory dish, depending on the filling used. Sweet versions are often filled with honey and cinnamon. On the other hand, savory versions may include ingredients such as spinach or minced meat. They are a popular snack in Crete and you will find them in every Cretan household or event. A must-try for any food lover visiting Crete.
Picture by: Yuliya Kirillova
Apaki – This smoked pork dish is a Cretan specialty that dates back to ancient times. The pork is marinated in a mixture of red wine, vinegar and spices and then smoked over aromatic wood. The result is a deliciously tender and flavorful pork that is perfect for a charcuterie board or served as a main course. It is very popular throughout the island and many restaurants and taverns serve their own version of it. By tasting it, you will understand the locally sourced ingredients and the significance of them in cuisine.
The famous wedding rice Crete, gamopilafo
You will find this traditional dish at weddings in Chania. It is made by cooking short-grain rice in a rich, flavorful broth that is usually from beef or lamb. The broth has a mixture of fragrant spices like cinnamon and cloves. After that, the dish has a generous amount of traditional butter, stakovouturo, to create a creamy texture. Gamopilafo is often served alongside slow-cooked meat, such as lamb or goat. A hearty and comforting dish, perfect for special occasions or as a comforting family meal. Its origins date back to the Venetian period in Crete and it remains a beloved staple of Cretan cuisine to this day.
Antikristo is a traditional Cretan dish that dates back to ancient times. Cooking large pieces of meat, usually lamb or goat, on a spit over an open fire. The locals cook the meat slowly and evenly, ensuring that it is tender and juicy, with a crisp outer layer. The name “antikristo” refers to the way in which the meat is cooked. It is a popular dish for festive occasions such as weddings and religious celebrations.
We couldn’t avoid mentioning the traditional butter, Staka. From butter and flour, the result is a rich and creamy sauce. It is typically a topping for meat dishes, such as lamb or goat, or as a base for vegetable dishes, such as greens or pulses. Staka is, in essence, butter in a pan and slowly whisking in flour until it forms a thick paste. The sauce has often flavors of garlic, lemon juice, and herbs such as dill or parsley. Staka is a versatile and flavorful ingredient that adds richness and depth to a wide variety of Cretan dishes.
Boureki, the Cretan dish which is definitely a must try!
Boureki – Layers of sliced potatoes, zucchini and a soft cheese such as mizithra or feta. In fact, the layers are full of herbs such as mint and dill and then baked in the oven until the vegetables are tender and the cheese is bubbly. Boureki is a delicious and comforting dish as a main course, especially during the summer months when fresh vegetables are abundant.
However, Crete is also famousfor its use of wild herbs and greens, which are abundant on the island. For example, dittany has a unique aroma as well as medicinal properties. You can enjoy them in tea as wella as seasonings in various dishes. Other popular herbs include thyme, oregano, and sage, which add depth and flavor to Cretan dishes.
Picture by: pawel_B
Finally, no discussion of Cretan cuisine would be complete without mentioning the island’s famous cheese. Cretan cheese is from sheep and goat milk and has a rich, tangy flavor that pairs well with bread, olives and wine. The most famous Cretan cheese is probably graviera, a hard cheese you will find in cooking or over pasta dishes.
In conclusion, Cretan dishes boast in authentic flavors that feed both mind and soul. From crispy pies to delicious lamb dishes, the island offers a plethora of fantastic dishes that every foodie must try. So, if you’re planning a trip to Crete, make sure to indulge in the island’s delicious cuisine and experience the true taste of Greece.