Food & Wine

Published on June 12, 2014 | by Giorgos Portokalakis


Cretan cuisine: discovering traditional products and flavours

Crete, a beautiful island placed in the middle of the Mediterranean sea, couldn’t be less than an important centre and crossroad of commercial and cultural exchanges throughout the centuries. Cretan diet is the result of the long history of the island. It’s a real philosophy and lifestyle, aimed at harmonizing body and spirit with nature.

The study of the Minoan civilization shows a culture with pure and healthy nutritional habits. Interestingly enough, Cretan cuisine wasn’t influenced by anyone. For more than 2 millennia, Cretans have rejected the presence of conquerors by sparingly calibrating relational dynamics and avoiding foreign influences on their diet, literally keeping them away from their culture and their kitchens.

The place, its ingredients, the knowledge of cooking practices, and cooks make the mosaic of every local cuisine. The gastronomic tradition of any country in the world includes a plethora of original recipes which give the stigma of every era and follow the festivities and religious events of its place of origin. And of course, the culture of taste is purely feminine. Cretan housewives have passed down their recipes and their experience with love and care to their families from generation to generation for centuries, while taking full advantage of the ingredients that mother earth had to offer.

Crete is blessed by nature, and thanks to its good weather conditions, it is also rich in vegetation. So among glades, brooks, and rivers, besides vineyards, walnut trees and chestnut trees, green leafy vegetables like chicories, stamnagathi (spine chicory), sorrels, myronia, and leeks in the wild here, in all their full beauty.

Since the Minoan era, olive oil, wheat, dairy products, vegetables, fish and, in part, also meat, were the ingredients of delicious meals which ensured health and longevity. But natural foods ripened in the Sun play the main role in this land, an wheat and olive oil have always been the basis. Kneaded bread, olives, olive oil, food made from cereals, pulses, vegetables, grapes and nuts have a leading role since the birth of the Minoan civilization.

The natural and fresh are always the favourites. Cretan cuisine is characterized by frugal ingredients, pure tastes, simplicity. Over the centuries, Cretans managed to keep the nutritional habits of their ancestors. As a result, olive oil, wild green leafy vegetables, vegetables, pulses, fish, brown bread, dairy products, honey and red wine are the masters on Cretan tables. Stone and tradition, thyme and honey, wild green leafy vegetables from the mountains and unique herbs, talented Cretan women compete in grandeur with contemporary master chefs and claim to hold the best of delicious and traditional recipes ever.

In the past, Cretan women used to work in the fields all day with the rest of the family, so they didn’t have time for cooking. For this reason, food had to be simple, easy to prepare but strengthening and tasty at the same time. Men and women alike were in charge of the preparation of food at the time, whereas its management was clearly a woman’s matter, so the latter eventually defined the qualitative characteristics of Cretan diet: simplicity, originality of the ingredients and tastes, the exclusive use of  olive oil. Of course the main rule was conviviality, eating together and sharing meals with the whole family.

What is more, visitors and tourists, too, have the privilege to taste original Cretan food because, especially in small villages, the kitchens of all tavernas and bars are managed by wives, mothers, mothers-in-law, daughters. The culinary tradition is carried from generation to generation and is alive because Cretan housewives only cook what they already know in ways that they know and not how tourists would like; the result is that visitors and tourists accept and adore this delicious package of Cretan culture. They eat and drink in a Cretan way, they love Cretan feasts and enjoy Cretan traditional food in its authenticity.

Crete has peculiar tastes. Exquisite cheese, exceptional olive oil, a great variety of herbs and spices. Taste the Sarikopites and the kalitsounia, the antikristo and the boubouristous snails, with the rest of the unique maze of tastes and flavors. Taste the goods of the Cretan land and sea and enjoy its flavours on your palate, knowing that they have travelled through the centuries and the cultures of 3 continents because in Crete food is hospitality, civilization, history, pleasure. A pleasure that makes life here even sweeter.

Crete is one of the few regions where visitors won’t need reserve pizza and souvlaki because anywhere they will enjoy good food, beautiful surroundings and attractive prices.


About the Author

Founder and owner of Porto Club, Giorgos is a passionate about Cretan food and culture and loves sharing this passion with guests and clients. Since 2000 he has been specializing in the field of special concepts of tourism with emphasis in Eco – Tourism, food, wine, culture and cooking classes for all lifestyles including gluten free followers, vegetarians and meat eaters. After spending over 40 years in the travel and cooking industry, he loves telling about the wonders of Crete, the family warmth of Cretan people, but also sharing the delights of Cretan cuisine with people who really appreciate good, fresh, natural and healthy cooking and slow food! Booking one of his food tour you will have the opportunity to taste the best of Cretan traditional Vegetarian cuisine and you will experience a way of life that very few tourists have the chance to enjoy.

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