13 of the Best Things I Ate on Crete, Greece
Updated: Oct 26, 2022
When thinking about the things that I love about Greece, the beaches, the history, the warmth of the people, the FOOD is at the top of my list. As we quickly discovered, Crete has several delicious nuances on traditional Greek food. These subtle differences are due to the influences of other Mediterranean countries that ruled Crete throughout the centuries. As well as the isolation of being an island, where you eat what grows on the island. You will find pasta and pizza in many places due to the long Venetian Rule of Crete. There are distinct Turkish and Middle Eastern spices in Cretan cooking thanks to the Ottoman Empire's rule in the late 19th century and early 20th century. There are several microclimates on Crete, allowing them to grow numerous fruits and vegetables. This allows them to serve a version of the traditional Greek Salad that has Bitter Greens in it. Crete is definitely a foodies paradise, listed below are some must-try dishes.
I am a fan of warm, wet food, that is rich and earthy. Lamb Stew is the Cretan version of comfort food and puts a check in every box I love. The first version, pictured above, from The Well and the Turk was deliciously flavored with Middle Eastern spices of cumin, turmeric and cardamon as well as preserved lemons. The second version, creamy with bitter greens to balance the richness, was from Rakomelo in Elounda. The Jewish Quarter of Old Town Chania is home for To Xani known for their traditional methods of food preparation. Their Lamb Stew is wrapped in parchment paper and cooked is a wood fired oven. They will let you take a peak in the kitchen to see the magic happening.
Breakfast is not really a thing in Greece. Most people have a coffee and maybe a small sweet pastry. However, Crete is a large tourist area, with many British tourists that enjoy a warm meal first thing in the morning, or late morning if they are on holiday. One morning we had a hearty breakfast of omelets. Woodstock is in Nea Chora, just a short walk from old town Chania. They have a nice breakfast menu including eggs, pancakes and Eggs Benedicts. There are several places in Old Town Chania that serve breakfast, but Woodstock, with its beachfront seating, was my favorite. If you are a coffee only person, Woodstock allows you to indulge in Cappuccino with a view, one of my favorite travel pleasures.
Peinirli with Kimas
Peinirli with Kimas is a boat shaped pizza filled with minced meat and a traditional Greek cheese, Kasseri. We ate this flavorful Peiniril at Salis in Old Town Chania. The Peinirli was topped with ground lamb (Kimas), pickled onion and sriracha aioli. It is not a common menu item, so if you see Peiniril on a menu I would highly recommend trying it.
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There are multiple places on Crete to get Pizza thanks to the Venetian culinary influences. I am picky about my Italian style pizza. I prefer it with a very thin crust and a robust tomato sauce, cooked in a wood fired oven. Luckily we found two great place for pizza in Old Town Chania, Veneto-Ristorante Italiano and il Padrino Italian Restaurant. Both restaurants offer an extensive menu of traditional Italian dishes. We bypassed all those dishes and went straight for the pizza. It was crispy and flavorful with rich tomato sauce and both offered a variety of toppings.
Pasta is widely available on Crete. CaptK is a huge fan of seafood pasta. We tried several versions while we were on Crete. Our two favorite versions were the tomato based version at Mikrolimano Psarotaverna in Nea Chora and the olive oil based version at Pelagos in Agios Nikolaos. Both we full of mussels, clams, shrimp and squid!
On Crete, the Lamb Kefta is spicier than Kefta in other areas. Not red pepper spicy but fragrant spicy using cumin, cinnamon, paprika and nutmeg. It is some of the best Lamb Kefta I have ever eaten. Lithos Taverna in Old Town Chania and Ferryman Taverna in Elounda, both serve these tasty ground lamb meatballs right off a wood fired grill.
Ever since my first trip to Paris in 2000, I have loved snails. When I find them on a menu, I always order these buttery, garlicky morsels swimming in sauce that demands bread to sop it up. In researching Cretan food, I found that snails were one of their delicacies. The ones I ordered at Rakomelo were generously served in a bath of buttery sauce, seasoned with rosemary. I was in foodie heaven.
Another twist on an Italian favorite is the Cretan version of Carbonara. It is made with olive oil and eggs, not cream and eggs. The version that I had at Salis was topped with wild boar sausage as well as bacon. It paired beautifully with the Nostra Red Blend from Manousakis Winery which is owned by the same family who owns the restaurant. As part of a Wine and Olive Oil Tour we visited this winery and tasted many of their offering. For more information check out this post, Wine and Olive Oil Tasting in Crete, Greece
Grilled Sea Bream
Grilled Sea Bream is one of my favorite Mediterranean dishes. To be honest it is hard to find a bad version on Crete. Olive oil and lemon or limes adds to its delicious flavor. All the fish tavernas in Nea Chora do an outstanding job in preparing this light white fish. We has an especially delicious ones at Portes as well as Mikrolimano Psarotaverna.
Octopus is one of my Grecian favorites. The fresh octopus is hung on a clothes line to dry before grilling it. This takes the moisture out, to prevent the octopus from steaming into a chewy mess when it is cooked. We had octopus numerous places, all of it tender and delicious,. The best octopus was at Portes in Nea Chora.
Fried Halloumi with Honey
Fried Halloumi, a Greek Cheese, is a bite of crispy gooey deliciousness. At Mikrolimano Psarotaverna, they balance the salty, fatty cheese with honey. It is a absolutely amazing dish that any cheese lover will enjoy.
Gyro with French Fries
One iconic Greek dish is the Gyro. Gyro translates into "bits of meat". It can be served on a plate with Pita and Tzatziki Sauce or in a pita as a wrap. In Crete you do not see the seasoned meat, usually lamb, on a spit like you do in other parts of Greece and Turkey. You also do not see the traditional Greek Souvlaki (meat kebab) as frequently as in other parts of Greece. The Gyros we ate, on Crete were filled with meat that was moist and well seasoned. CaptK likes his Gyro in a pita with French Fries in with meat. Both Lithos Taverna and To Xani are great choice if you are hunger for a Gyro in Old Town Chania.
CaptK has Gelato everyday when we are traveling. I really enjoy one on a hot afternoon around 3:00. Hands down Captk's favorite spot in Old Town Chania for Gelato is Delizia Gelato Italiano. He had a single scoop almost everyday! His favorite favor is Sea Salt Carmel. I am a Red Raspberry or a Dark Chocolate fan.
I find that it is really difficult to get a bad meal in Greece. Of course, personal preferences abound, but what you find in even the smallest restaurants is fresh locally grown products that are cooked with Grandma's recipes and often with Grandma in the kitchen. Even in the most touristy areas, the food is very high quality. When you are dining near the water, you can expect to have a few feline beggars.
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