Food & Wine

Published on April 8, 2014 | by Giorgos Portokalakis


A Voyage into Crete’s Vegetarian and Vegan Tastes

I would like to introduce you to one of the most tasty and healthy cuisines in the world but also to a magnificent ancient civilization. Learn about the art of Cretan vegetarian nutrition and cooking.

Crete and Cretan vegetarian diet

Historical evidence and mythology have extensively proved Cretans’ nutritional preferences throughout the centuries as well as their fondness for basic products.

Their diet is typically based on products that originate from the island’s farmlands and mainly includes plates of raw or home cooked greens, grains, pulses, vegetables, olive oil, and fruits. Cretan diet is based on fresh and natural produce that is cooked in their original form without any addition in the preparation of the recipes of processed or complicated sauces and only enriched with fresh spices and aromatic herbs that grow on the island of Crete.

Vegetarian Food

The taste and aroma of Cretan plates are perfectly balanced and recipes are typically passed on from older women to younger ones, e.g. grandmother, mother, aunt, sister and so on, rather than from neighbor to neighbor, just like a class in school so that their food traditions last in time. Most of the dishes are very colorful and well presented (big variety and combinations of vegetables, pulses, and greens) in Cretan diet, but taste still comes before presentation.

Raw materials

Basic ingredients are greens, vegetables, fresh herbs, spices, and olive oil. With a recorded history and culture dating back to 2500 B.C. (more than 5000 years ago) the Island’s cuisine has been clearly influenced in a unique way over time, and has evolved to its current state blending traditions from three different continents – Europe, Asia, and Africa. Mediterranean Sea played a significant ‘role’ in Crete’s cuisine. The salt and iodine of the Mediterranean Sea around the island, make lands particularly fertile, fortifying and enriching the agricultural products with their presence. The diet of locals also includes fish and other seafood almost in the same proportion as meat.

Olive oil on bread, wine for the spirit, sweet for the soul…

Back to the origins. Homemade bread, olive oil, wine, and spoon desserts have nourished Cretans throughout the centuries until today, with no need to be supplemented with standardized, processed food.

Cretan Food

Although not very rich in meat proteins, Crete’s cuisine never lacks in quality and quantity of foods, because housewives always cook creative dishes as casseroles, pies, stews, spoon desserts and so on, to the delight of real gourmands. Simple and healthy tastes support a centuries old gastronomic tradition, so powerful and original that it features different specialties and traditional dishes at each and every festivity or local celebration.

Crete’s vegetarian – vegan tastes

Cretans discovered the healing properties of the greens and herbs of their island a very long time ago. Even today that modern, chemistry based Medicine and Pharmaceutical industry have replaced the medicinal knowledge of our ancestors, Cretan farmers still collect greens and herbs from the mountains, mix them, and use them as natural and practical methods to heal their families.

As I’ve spent my childhood living in the city, I’ve never understood the need of a different and specific diet for each season. Later, as soon as I started to work in the tourism industry, with a particular fondness for alternative types tourism such as agro-tourism and ecotourism, I realized and came to the conclusion that Cretans have not adopted a vegetarian lifestyle intentionally, but rather because of their daily needs.

Taste of Crete

Also the Greek Orthodox Church has largely contributed towards this lifestyle as they include the practice of Small Fasts (every Wednesday and Friday) and longer ones (Christmas, Easter and August) among their precepts. Vegetables soups and pulses. Meat is out of the menu. Greens are eaten boiled an seasoned with fresh lemon juice and raw olive oil, or fried in olive oil; they are also used to fill the famous Cretan pies.

Ecologically, and spiritually minded, varied, balanced and especially tasty, Cretan food is said to be the ideal diet which ensures good health and long life. Research shows that people who eat according to Crete’s traditional ways, have less chance of suffering from heart disease, and are generally healthier even than people living in the neighboring Mediterranean countries. Their secret? Cretans typically eat twice as much fruit as other Europeans, a quarter less meat and more pulses. Think about it…

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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