The largest of the Greek Islands, Crete is an island with a lot to offer. The landscape varies from rugged cliffs and mountain ranges to pristine sandy beaches, while the food is equally diverse. You’ll find such ingredients as Cretan olive oil, fresh fish, cheeses made from sheep’s or goat’s milk and raki, which is a strong grape brandy.
Food plays a big role in Cretan culture, with families and communities often sharing plates together. When you’re exploring this incredible island, use my guide to some of the most delicious Cretan dishes, plus some lively food markets where you can find fresh local produce.
A type of meze (a selection of small dishes), Dakos is made using pieces of dried and baked bread, known as rusks, which are topped with diced or grated tomato, olive oil, cheese and oregano. Full of flavour, this is a light snack and a great nibble before a meal.
Dolmades are stuffed vine leaves, which are popular on several Mediterranean islands. They’re a delicious snack or side dish and can be found at most food markets and restaurants across Crete. When I first tried dolmades I was surprised at just how flavoursome they are! Common fillings are usually a combination of meat, rice and dried or ground herbs.
Horta, or wild greens, are a staple in Cretan cuisine. Locals will often pick their own horta when going on mountain walks – a skill which is passed from generation to generation. You can find fresh wild greens at many local food markets, so why not buy some and try cooking them back at your villa? Depending on the season you’ll find curly endives, collards, kale, dandelion leaves and black mustard leaves. Horta are simply cooked in hot water or steamed, before being lightly seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper.
Lamb with hylopites
Hylopites are a type of square-shaped egg pasta, which are usually served with meat. A popular dish involves cubes of lamb cooked with hylopites, onion, carrot, garlic, pepper and tomatoes. Before serving, the dish is lightly sprinkled with cheese to give it extra flavour. This is a simple and hearty main dish; look out for it when you’re in Crete!
Hailing from the town of Sfakia in south-western Crete, these pies are a delicious local treat. Made using flour, raki (a kind of brandy), cheese and honey, the dough is rolled out in to small flat circles, and a ball of cheese is added to the centre. The dough is folded over the cheese to make a parcel, before being flattened by hand in to a thick pancake shape. Then, they’re lightly fried on both sides and served drizzled with honey – delicious!
This is one for those of you with a sweet tooth. Loukoumades are incredibly yummy and moreish pastries, which are hand-rolled balls of dough, deep fried in olive oil and coated in honey, cinnamon and ground nuts. They’re delightfully sweet and you can often smell them being cooked while exploring local food markets.
Crete’s largest city, Heraklion, is home to a historic central market which is a popular spot for both locals and tourists. Known by most as the old market, you’ll find the stalls along 1866 street selling a wonderful selection of fruit and vegetables, Cretan cheeses, meats, herbs and spices. On a nearby street you’ll also find the local fish market. Here you can purchase the catch of the day and other fresh seafood, which you can cook on the barbecue back at your villa.
Chania covered market
Found at the Agora marketplace in the heart of Chania, this large covered market is almost always thriving. Everything you need to cook an authentic Cretan meal can be found here, from delicious cheeses to local olives, breads and quince preserves. I recommend visiting early in the morning to avoid the crowds and ensure you get the freshest produce on offer. If your hunger gets the best of you while discovering all of these delicious foods, pop in to one of the many small restaurants before heading home.
Wash your meal down with…
As previously mentioned, raki is a type of strong grape brandy and is the national drink of Crete. It’s got a kick to it, so is usually served in a small glass.
While the wine in Crete is pleasant to drink, try retsina. It’s a different type of wine matured in pine casks. The taste isn’t for everyone, but it’s worth a try!