EATING OUT ON CRETE
Food is a very important part of life and hopefully you will appreciate the simplicity of the Cretan & Greek cuisine. The food is prepared quite simply. Fish is usually baked or grilled and served with a lemon & oil sauce.
Meats are usually grilled or cooked as a stew. Spices are minimal such as salt & pepper & some local herbs like oregano, thyme & parsley. The oil (always olive oil) must be the best, the fish very fresh, the meat tasty and the vegetables preferably just picked from the garden. Then and only then can a meal have the potential of being a good meal.
Sometimes some of the best tavernas may have neon lights and the walls may not be decorated with any taste, but the food will be scrumptious. So don’t let décor throw you off.
For Cretans, a meal is a social occasion and accordingly, food is ordered for the "table", not for the individuals. You order a bit of everything, spread it around the table, or more often cover the table with different dishes and everybody picks at everything.
our favorites tavernas on crete
getting familiar with greek food
Here are some examples of local dishes that you may come across when looking at a menu with a rough idea of how they are prepared.
SALADS & STARTERS
Greek Salad: Sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, green peppers, onions and feta cheese topped with olive oil & oregano.
Cabbage Salad: Shredded cabbage & carrots with olive oil and vinegar.
Tuna Salad: Usually generous amounts of lettuce as the base, with sliced tomatoes and chunks of tuna in a mayonnaise sauce.
Marouli: Shredded Greek lettuce with a sprinkling of fresh dill, fresh onions & topped with vinegar & olive oil.
Tzatziki: Yoghurt, shredded cucumber and ground fresh garlic, all blended to form a thick dip.
Skordialia: Garlic & boiled potato dip.
Taramosalata: A light pink dip made of cod's roe.
Augbergine Dip: Aubergines & yogurt.
Saganaki: Fried 'Graviera' cheese, best eaten when hot.
Horta: Special wild greens boiled and sometimes accompanied with boiled courgettes & potatoes. Vlita is usually only in summer months and is not bitter at all, whilst other horta like Stamnagathi does have a bitter taste. Ensure to drizzle olive oil & a squeeze of lemon to garnish.
Tyropitakia: Pastry stuffed with mizithra & anthotiro cheese. There are many pies in general but the top 3 are spinach, cheese and the "anamichto" which has both.
Dolmahdes: Vine leaves stuffed with and rice. You can also get the flowers from the courgettes done the same way, when in season.
Fried Mushrooms/Fried Courgettes/Fried Augbergines: All sliced, rolled in flour and deep fried.
Courgette Balls: Courgettes & cheese rolled up and pan fried in olive oil.
Fried Potatoes:/Chips: Fresh potatoes deep-fried in olive oil. You can tell if it is a good taverna if the potatoes are freshly cut and not frozen type.
Meatballs: Fresh mince meat with parsley, cumin and oregano fried in olive oil.
Moussaka: Layers of aubergine, minced meat, potato with bechamel sauce.
Papoutsakia: Literally ‘little shoes’, aubergines sliced in half, stuffed with minced meat in a tomato sauce and topped with feta cheese and baked in the oven. Sometimes this dish is served without meat for vegetarians.
Gemista: Stuffed tomatoes, green peppers and courgettes. Usually with rice and tomatoes & mint.
Stiffatho: Rabbit or beef, cooked slowly in a rich sauce of tomato, onion, cinnamon, orange peel and laurel.
Snails: Boubouristous- fried in a pan with rosemary or done in a cassarole pot in a tomato sauce with potatoes and dill.
The usual chicken, pork chops, and lamb chops are available at most tavernas, and sometimes lamb cooked in the oven. Pork or chicken souvlaki are huge chunks of meat on a skewer.
Grilled beef burgers may be available too, but they are usually just burgers, without the bun!
Always ask if they are served with side dishes to avoid over ordering.
Most restaurants will serve the meat with either rice or potatoes. With the Italian influence on the island, pasta is common on the menus in restaurants too.
Shrimp: Usually you can order them deep-fried or boiled. Don't be too surprised if they are served with the shells on.
Shrimp (garides) saganaki: Usually baked with feta cheese and tomato sauce.
Octopus: Grilled or boiled; the latter seems to be the favoured way to prepare them. Try them with lemon juice or vinegar. Part of the tenderizing process is hanging them outside on a clothes line!
Kalamari: Squid is prepared in several ways; deep-fried, boiled or you may find it cooked in a tomato sauce with potatoes.
Soupia: Cuttlefish is another favourite on the grill. Best with lemon juice and olive oil.
Marithes: Small deep-fried whitebait.
Ksifias: Swordfish; can be grilled or in an oven dish with tomato & onions & parsley.
Barbounia: Red mullet (fried)
Tsipoura- Gilt-head Bream (grilled)
Fagri- Sea bream (grilled)
Salmon - Grilled and served as a portion.
Sardines - Grilled or fried.
A few words of warning - fish quoted on the menu is usually per kilo not per helping. Also when you look at a menu, don't assume that all the dishes listed are available, especially in early & late seasons, if there isn't a price penciled in next to the dish, it's not on the menu!
Baklava: Layers of flaky pastry with finely chopped nuts, soaked in honey.
Kataifi: Shredded - kataifi pastry in a sugary syrup, filled with chopped nuts.
Glika tou Koutaliou: Preserved fruits in a sugary syrup, served alone or with yogurt.
Yoghurt and honey, ice creams and cheese pies with honey are also favourites and most tavernas/restaurants bring a small sweet for the table with a raki complimentary when you ask for the bill, which is a really nice touch at the end of a meal. A lovely gesture at almost all Cretan eating places, just because that is how it is done here.