Cretan cuisine is renowned worldwide for its unique ingredients and rich flavours. Cooking here is based on simple techniques and lush local produce, making the island’s dishes stand out.
From organic mountain herbs and a variety of greens to handmade cheeses, an abundance of fresh seafood, the renowned Cretan olive oil, floral honey and famous Raki- there is something very special about the delicacies on offer.
We recently spoke with Kelly Michelakis, founder of The Hellenic Odyssey, a passionate home cook who hails from Crete and runs popular online cooking classes. Kelly offers lessons to people around the world on how to prepare Greek food and also shares her Cretan family recipes that have been handed down through generations.
What do you think makes Cretan cuisine unique, and what dishes from the island do you enjoy making?
Cretan cuisine aligns with the values of the Mediterranean diet, which in fact originated in Crete in the post WWII period. Cretan food relies on fresh, local and seasonal produce. Dishes are simple but full of flavour which comes from high-quality products such as extra virgin olive oil and fresh aromatic herbs. I love making Cretan Kaltsounia and Boureki the most.
Having spent a lot of time in Chania, where are some of your favourite places to eat out?
Ntounias set in the mountainous region of Nerokouros, Gramvousa restaurant in Kaliviani with beach views in the distance, and Chrisostomos, Tamam and Oasis all in the town centre and for the sweet tooth Kronos and Ioardanis.
What Cretan delicacies/dishes do you suggest people try when visiting?
Bougatsa: It comes in two forms. The sweet version is filled with custard and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. Also, there is a savoury version which is made using a local cheese called Mizithra.
Boureki: This delicious dish is traditionally made by layering thickly cut pieces of zucchini and potatoes, topped with a cheese and mint mix.
Dakos: A refreshing Greek appetiser consisting of a large barley rusk, it is topped with extra virgin olive oil, grated tomatoes and mizithra cheese.
Pilafi: This traditional rice pilaf is made using chicken or beef stock or even a combination of both. It is then finished with lemon juice and butter.
Kaltsounia: Filo pastry parcels with any type of soft local Cretan cheese and/or wild greens and herbs.
Loukoumades: Fluffy doughnuts, which are soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside, there are so many Loukoumades stores in every part of Crete serving this popular sweet.
Yoghurt: Crete is a large producer of dairy making yoghurt varieties, from sheep to cow and to goat.
Myzithra: A cheese similar to ricotta but made with goats milk. It is extremely soft in texture and absolutely delicious.
Raki: This is a very strong spirit made using the traditional evaporation method. Leftover grape pomace is used to make the following harvest and winemaking.
Sfakianopita: A scrumptious pie from the mountainous region of Sfakia. This is a really thin flat pie which is filled with a small amount of cheese, lightly fried and topped with lots of honey.
Staka: A very traditional dish made from goat’s milk butterfat. In fact, Staka is a dish you will only find in Crete.
Xerotigana: A light pastry fluffy dough fried in olive oil, soaked in honey, and topped with sesame seeds or walnuts- delivering a super crunchy texture.
Cover image via purecrete.com