Now that you have found your perfect holiday villa in Crete, it is time to ask yourself if there’s anything to eat.
Given how delicious Cretan food is, there are really only two aspects to eating out in Crete: choosing what you’re going to eat and where. We have put together a selection of some quintessential dishes of Cretan cuisine and our choices of great places to enjoy them while on holiday on this Greek resort island.
What to Eat
While pretty much anything you eat in Crete is likely to be among the best things you’ve ever tried in your life, there are some dishes that are particularly famous. Try not to leave the island without trying them at least once!
Dakos (aka koukouvagia, kouloukopsomo) is a Greek bruschetta-like meze made up of wheat, barley, or chickpea rusks (paximadi). After being dipped in water or olive oil, the rusks are topped with finely-chopped tomato and creamy myzithra cheese (a sort of ricotta or cream cheese). They are then finished with a few capers and caper leaves, a sprinkling of olive oil, and a pinch of salt, oregano, and pepper.
Fried Snails (Chochlioi Boubouristi)
A traditional Cretan delicacy, the unpronounceable chochlioi boubouristi are snails coated in flour and pan-fried in olive oil. They are then doused with wine (or vinegar) and served with wild rosemary. Other recipes have them prepared in a simple tomato sauce. Whichever one you try, it makes for a unique flavor that you won’t soon forget!
Lamb with Stamnagathi
Traditional Cretan lamb is paired with stamnagathi, a popular green that grows wild on the island. The lamb is pan-fried in olive oil and oregano and served with the stamnagathi and avgolemono (a thick sauce made from whisked egg and lemon).
Pork Chops (Hirina Apakia)
The preparation of this succulent smoked pork involves a multi-day process, whereby lengths of pork are marinated in vinegar for a few days and then smoked above an herb fire (sage, bay, rosemary) for 1-1.5 hours per pound. The pork is best served cold, in thin slices. Apakia can also be bought at various places across the island, vacuum-packaged for easy transportation, so you can take a piece of your holidays back home with you.
Wedding Risotto (Gamopilafo)
This is a popular rice dish traditionally served at weddings in Crete. Similar to risotto, it is prepared in a rich meat broth (goat, lamb, or fowl) to which lemon juice and generous servings of stakovoutiro (goat milk butter) are added.
Mountain Bulbs (Askordoulakous)
Askordoulakous are the bulbs of a wild green that the Cretan villagers gather and eat as a salad, dressed with oil and vinegar or lemon juice. They can also be pickled, or stewed with olive oil, vinegar, and flour. The white blossoms of the plant are also used in Cretan cooking.
The villages of Crete are known for producing their own varieties of traditional Cretan cheeses, usually made from goat’s or sheep’s milk or a combination of the two. Must-try favorites include graviera (a hard and sweet gruyere, nutty and savory when aged), pichtogalo chanion (a soft and creamy kind of cream cheese, slightly sour), and mizithra (whey cheese resembling cottage cheese, with a mild flavor).
Cretan Cheese Pies (Kaltsounia)
The Cretan cheese pies are unique to the island, created with handmade pastry shaped into little cups and filled with various sweet cheeses, including myzithra or malaka. The pies are often made with a touch of rosewater and drizzled with Cretan honey, creating a delicious fusion of sweet and savory.
Sfakianes Pies (Pites)
These pies from the mountainous coastal region of Sfakia resemble pancakes, but the dough is made of flour, olive oil, and raki (Cretan liquor). The pies are filled with a choice of Cretan soft cheeses, usually myzithra or pichtogalo chanion. They are lightly brushed with olive oil and pan-fried, then served with thyme or honey.
Cretan Brandy (Raki or Tsikoudia)
Fall in Crete sees the making of raki in copper stills over open wood fires. This local pomace brandy is made from the newly harvested grapes on the island and served in tavernas and cafés throughout. Raki is the local take on tsipouro (found throughout Greece) and is sometimes called tsikoudia, served neat in a shot glass (sketo!) It is also very close to the better-known ouzo, with the main difference being the raki’s lack of aniseed.
Where to Eat
It can be hard to choose where to eat, since the bar is actually pretty high in Crete. You may, for example, find yourself on a deserted beach where no one ever goes and stumble upon a rundown place that has obviously been around a long time, has probably seen better days, and is run by an apparent ex-convict and his family. If so, then you’re in luck, as you’re likely to enjoy the best meal of your life!
In a more urban setting, you may enjoy eating at any of the places listed below. Just keep in mind that our list is by now means exclusive. You will find several amazing restaurants and tavernas that will make for mouthwatering memories—sometimes in the most unlikely places!
Castelo is one of Rethymnon’s grandest restaurants, shrouding a cobblestone street and beautiful courtyard in Medieval-style splendor. The eclectic mix of modern and ancient flourishes in this Venetian setting. The restaurant serves delicious traditional cuisine with gourmet excellence and exceptional service.
Set on a shaded, flowering patio, this Cretan eatery serves delicious local cuisine including grilled or stewed mountain meats, veal fillet carpaccio, snails, and sea bass fillet. Located in an alleyway of the old town, between the port and the fortress, Alana is the relaxed and welcoming restaurant where the locals like to eat their share of good meat!
Salis is an upmarket restaurant that serves traditional Cretan cuisine with a modern flare. Favorite menu items include tarama (scrambled fish eggs) with avocado, pasticcio (a thick pasta-based, oven-cooked dish) with truffle, guinea fowl with orange and tarragon sauce, or sea bass in paupiette. The restaurant grows almost all its own produce, ensuring organic, seasonal, and natural foods.
With a respectful yet contemporary take on traditional dishes, this restaurant is known for its extraordinary bursts of gourmet flavor. Menu favorites include grilled octopus and marinated tuna. Gioma Meze is also renowned for its great service and stunning view.
The owners of this tavern belong to a family of fishermen who enjoy cooking Cretan specialties, including the "king fish" and various other traditional dishes. Set on the beach in the middle of the Paleo promenade, the Galaxy restaurant offers a beautiful view of the Libyan sea. Friendly service and good prices ensure an unforgettable experience.
Romantically nestled in a pedestrian alley, the Avli (courtyard) restaurant will bewitch diners with its vaulted dining room and crumbling stone courtyard. The menu is just as magical, with traditional dishes including tender goat meat with honey and thyme. The restaurant uses organic, locally sourced produce. Furthermore, Avli offers guests the opportunity to join the staff in the production of meals—from the market to the table.
The oldest tavern in Plaka, Maria’s Taverna serves tasty traditional Cretan dishes, beautifully presented in a modern venue featuring wonderful architecture. A firm favorite with visitors both local and from afar, the baked fish served with vegetables is always good. Save a spot for Maria's surprise dessert—it’s finger-licking delicious!
Creta Embassy Restaurant
Set in a warm and cheerful garden just off the harbor, this small and friendly tavern is housed in a 19th-century mansion. The Creta Embassy Restaurant serves authentic Cretan cuisine and is popular for its enjoyable outdoor BBQ evenings. Visitor favorites include the grilled octopus with wine and the baked pork with honey and mustard.
Located in a cozy, vine-cover courtyard, Veneto serves authentic Italian specialties including scaloppine, pasta, and pizza baked in a traditional oven. There is also a small, romantic dining area indoors for intimate gatherings. With an exceptional wine cellar and meticulous service, visitors will be delighted with their dining experience here.
The Cellar Restaurant
Set in a prime location on the waterfront of Kissamos, this family-run eatery offers an array of seafood specialties. With fresh fish caught daily by local fishermen—friends of the family!—and meat from the farmers just above the bay, the Cellar Restaurant is a favorite with locals and visitors alike.
Eating well is important no matter where you live or travel to. Crete is famous worldwide for its delicious food, so set for the nearest restaurant or taverna and pick up the menu.
As you explore the island, enjoy mouth-watering food, from fresh seafood to unique cheese and tasty meat dishes. Crete offers a variety of options for every palate, so you’re guaranteed to make some amazing culinary discoveries and discover new favorite dishes.
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