Besides amazing beaches and beautiful scenery, the island of Crete also boasts a rich and diverse cuisine comprised of fresh vegetables, a variety of excellent local cheeses, quality meat, fresh fish, superb wines… you name it, Crete produces it. Each region has its own delicacies, and there are too many delicious dishes to mention, but here are a few I recommend you try when visiting the island.
Sioufihta: fresh Cretan pasta
Traditionally this handmade pasta is served with “staka” -a type of full fat butter- and piles of grated local cheese like “ kefalotiri” or “anthotiro”, but can also be prepared with a variety of fresh sauces. “Sioufihta”, or “Skioufikta”, go by this name because it is derived from the word “skioufizo”, which means “to twist”, and this pasta is made by twisting the dough with the fingers. The traditional recipe does not contain eggs, so it’s a good choice for vegans, as long as you have it without the butter and cheese, of course!
Siglino and Apaki
Even though Cretans commonly eat mostly lamb and goat- which, by the way, can be seen all over the island precariously balancing on the edge of tiny rocks and cliff sides- the two most popular meat delicacies are “Siglino” and “Apaki”, which are made from pork. Siglino is pork preserved in the fat produced when it is cooked. This method of preserving meat was common in various areas of Greece, especially in times when fridges were not available.
Apaki, meaning fat free, is made from fat free (!) processed pork that is marinated in vinegar for two or three days, and then smoked with various herbs and spices. Apaki is eaten raw or lightly cooked in oil or over the grill. I am not a big pork eater myself, but a little bit of Apaki is a must when visiting Crete.
“Marathopites”: Fennel pies
Wild greens and herbs are abundant in Crete and it’s no wonder that you find pies made with a variety of greens wherever you go. These little pies are perfect for breakfast or a snack at any time of the day. They are made with whatever greens are available at the time and typically include seasonal wild mountain greens, herbs, and spinach. Fennel pies, originating from Chania, are considered traditionally Cretan, and are quite time consuming to make, so take advantage when they are available and try them; they are aromatic and delicious.
“Sfakiani pita”: sweet pie from Sfakia
Cheese pies, or “Kalitsounia”, both salty and sweet, are found in different forms all over Crete. I especially love the sweet cheese pies made with soft cheese, but this salty- sweet pie, which looks like a stuffed pancake, is one of my favourite things to eat in Crete. Originally made in the area of Sfakia in Southern Crete, it can luckily be found around most of the island. The flat pie is filled with myzithra cheese, grilled and served warm, topped with honey. Typically, it is eaten for breakfast, or as a desert, but I find it goes well with whatever you are eating! If you like the combination of salty and sweet, you will love this.
Cretan salad enjoyed at Falasarna beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in Crete.
The Cretan salad is easy to make, fulfilling and delicious. It is typically made with tomatoes, olives, “Dakos” or Cretan barley rusks, soft cheese, and just enough olive oil to soften the rusks, but not make them soggy. It’s the perfect light summer meal, especially when you are spending the day at the beach.
Raki is usually offered on the house as a digestive in most restaurants on the island.
Ok, this is not a food, but because it is almost impossible to eat normal amounts of food in Crete, you are going to need something to help you digest at the end of your meal. One or two shots of Raki or Tsikoudia, as the locals call it, will do the trick. Tsikoudia is made by distilling the pomace – including the stems and the seeds – of grapes used in wine making. Locals drink tsikoudia at all times of the day, but go easy on it as it contains up to 30% alcohol!
Have you been to Crete? What are your favourite traditional Cretan foods? Write your recommendations in the comments below!