Updated: Nov 24, 2019
I go nnnnnuts for Greek food. But the Cretan one has this little something that makes it absolutely unique in the whole country. And it mainly has to do with its freshness, authenticity and ingeniousity. A feast of aromas and tastes!
The Cretan cuisine has a reputation that is more than well established. I bet you all heard about the Cretan diet, now commonly called Mediterranean diet (just avoid calling it so when you're in Crete... they have their pride!), a subject that feeds millions of magazine articles every year a little before the beginning of Summer.
The Cretan diet is known today all across the world. Many international scientific studies have found it to be of significant benefit to human health since the 1950's: almost no Cretans suffered from cardiovascular diseases nor cancer. It became the "it" diet in the 90's and the base of numerous dietary models until today.
The principle is quite simple: little meat and no cow milk (no cows anyway... so no beef either) nor sugar, but plenty of greens and pulses, grains, nuts, liters (literally) of olive oil, kilos of honey and a moderate amount of alcohol (understand local wine and raki - you don't know what raki is yet? Ohhhh you'll learn to know really fast when you go to Crete!).
Bye bye processed food. You'll only eat what can be grown and what is found wild.
You have to project yourself on an island - ok, it is the 5th biggest island there, but still - in the middle of the Mediterranean sea, baking under the sun not less than 9 months a year, and imagine what food ressources could grow on such an arid land. Limited, obviously.
But variety is the spice of life, and the Cretans love their food (and they're so right). So if you have to eat the same veggies at every meal, you end up becoming extremely inventive. That explains why the culinary traditions of Crete are so rich: they know how to make different flavors out of the same ingredients. You'll find dozens of ways to prepare wild greens (120 were identified and they're growing absolutely everywhere!), pulses, vegetables... snails (yes yes! You should try snails! I know, some of you will make a grimace. But I promise they taste amazing - way better than corn dogs or say spray cheese!), they're super healthy and Cretans really know how to cook them.
Olive oil, aka the liquid gold, very high in anti-oxydant, is the base of the Cretan diet and the secret of the islanders' longevity. Crete produces more olive oil than any other Greek region, 5% of the world production, 90% of which is extra virgin. You'll be amazed by their lavish use of olive oil: they have the highest consumption in the world (imagine : 3 times more than the Italians!).
And heck yes, their oil -tasty but delicate and mild- is delicious. You want to put it in every dish. As a matter of fact, no other cooking fat is used in the traditional diet of the Cretans. Even their desserts are most often prepared with olive oil, and very rarely with butter. What’s more, the island counts over 30 millions of olive trees, 2 of which are said to be the oldest in the entire world...
They also have a very strong and ancient cheese making tradition. If you come to our next workshop in June, you will be shown how to make some and make some directly from "our" shepherd's sheepfold. Yummy!
Not to forget their love for yogurt. Once you'll taste it with that thick honey running on the creamy dish, you'll most certainly get hooked. And why wouldn't you anyway, it is so healthy!
Meat and fish away from the coast are occasional treats. So forget about your routine steaks. You'll get lamb, pork, goat or chicken. But lamb, pork, goat or chicken like you've never tasted before. Imagine what animals do on such an island: here they still graze freely on the island's mountains. Ok, except for the pigs, you're right. But almost every meat comes from the local farms. You will notice right away the difference...
Speaking of grazing, Crete is wild harvest paradise: you just have to bend down to collect your dinner's salad. Just a way of saying, of course, but in Crete there are more plant species than anywhere in Europe. You would be surprised by the use of wild herbs in the Cretans daily life: tea, remedies, bread, salads, pies... Cretans are so very proud of their herbs. They'll tell you a lot about the dyktamo, the plant that basically heals everything and only grows on the island. You'll find heaps of those at the farmer's markets.
You'll see beehives everywhere, nevertheless, because of the little rain they get throughout the year, the honey is only collected once a year, in the Summer. It is considered as a rare and precious product, eventhough they use it widely. It well replaces sugar in sweets but they use it also in their savory meals and [*SLURP*] on cheese.
You got it right, the secret of Cretan cuisine is its simplicity and freshness. Each ingredient has to be pure and flavorful enough to maintain its distinctiveness. As we all know, the proof is in the pudding, so come and have a taste of what Crete has to offer...
The icing of the cake: here are 2 of my favorite recipes, easy as pie, and that will leave you full of beans ;-)