Greek food is one of those things that conquer tourists when they visit the country. Mediterranean diet at its best, genuine and fresh ingredients, and tons of flavor. When visiting Crete, people come looking for staples of the Greek cuisine, including Greek salad, moussaka, or galaktoboureko, however, there is more to these traditional recipes to the island. This guide shows you what to eat in Crete if you want to discover the real food that locals eat on the island, take a look!
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Essentials for your Adventures in Crete!
Getting to Crete: Nothing like sailing from one island to the other. Check Ferryhopper to book your ferry tickets in advance.
Top-rated tours in Crete: If you’re a fan of our beaches, then don’t miss this Cruise to Balos or a Day Trip to Elafonisi. If you came to the island seeking adventure, then hike the Samaria Gorge. Finally, for those interested in Crete’s past and history, don’t miss a visit to Knossos Palace.
Want to see Crete better? Explore it on wheels! Personally, use Discover Cars to go where my old jalopy won’t take me.
Show me the money! No, really, need cash? Wise is the best online money transfer service with a debit card accepted all over Greece.
Want to discover Chania?
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Where to Stay in Crete
If you’re coming to Crete to enjoy your summer holidays, discover the beaches, the museums, and all the thrilling things to do on the island, the first thing to do is to start with accommodation. Head here to check all the places to stay in Crete. In this section, instead, I discuss home rentals.
Instead, if you don’t have time to read all the guides, and want to check my favorite places to stay, take a look at this quick selection. Small budget ranges between €20 for a bed in a shared room in a hostel to €45 for a small flat. Mid-range hotels go from €50 to €80 per night. Better places can be booked for more than €100 a night.
Small budget: You can spend the night in Crete without breaking the bank. When the budget is tight, I recommend either So Young Hostel (Heraklion), Cocoon City Hostel (Chania), Matthias Hotel Apartments (Rethymnon), and Villa Galini (Agios Nikolaos).
Why is Cretan food so renowned all over the world? First of all, it’s simple. But that does not mean it lacks in tastes or aromas. The key is all in the combination of fresh ingredients, the wise use of spices and herbs, and the balance to combine just a few condiments. The ones usually used are sea salt, extra virgin olive oil, fragrant lemon, and a bit of oregano.
There is no real need for more when those few ingredients are of terrific quality. Flavors enhance each other without masking the taste of food but exalting it.
Cretan dishes are like no other simply because the goal is not to just mix flavors, but to enhance each and every one of them. Spices will not mask the ingredients, and flavors will combine with the right amount of balance.
You can even eat the same ingredients for days, but you will always have them tasting different. And despite the fact that dishes might look complex or hard to prepare, the food in Crete is absolutely easy to make.
What to Eat in Crete: Frequently Asked Questions
Food is usually cheap all over the island and drinks are not so expensive either. If you plan to cook your own meals, choose the farmer’s markets that travel from town to town every day of the week.
The food is simply delicious. It combines an immense variety of seasonal greens, goat and sheep cheeses, both soft and mature. Sweet and savory pies, a modest amount of meat, lots of herbs, Extra virgin olive oil, and local honey.
Eating out is not really expensive if you choose to eat where locals eat or if you avoid high-end restaurants as well as touristic traps.
An average meal is less than €10 per person. A selection of mezedes for 4 people can go from €15 to €35, depending on how many dishes you choose to eat. Never pay more than €8 for a Cretan salad (the local alternative to the more touristic Greek salad), nor pay more than €4 for a gyro wrap. A dish of traditional boureki can cost between €6 to €10.
Try the local pies (such as meat pie (kreatopita) or cheese pie (tiropita). Do try marinated fish (gavros marinatos), Chania boureki, Sfakian pita (filled with local cheese and honey on top). Those more adventurous might want to try patsas soup, snails with rosemary, and sikotaria (fried liver). Do try staka on top of French fries, apaki (cured pork), and stews (including goat or rabbit stifado). Loving sweets? Don’t miss fig, walnut, or orange spoon sweet on top of fresh Greek yogurt, local thyme honey, bougatsa, and homemade cakes.
Words to Remember
Mezedes: Small dishes served as a meal, or even before a meal usually shared. In Crete, mezedes are normally served with tsikoudia, and include olives, paximadia, dolmades, tzatziki sauce, and small keftedes (sing. meze).
Paximadia: Cretan rusks at the base of the dakos, one of Crete’s staple Summer dishes.
Kafenio: Old style cafeteria where (mostly men) meet to have Greek coffee, raki, play tavli, and have endless conversations.
Taverna: The typical restaurant you will find all over Greece serving a selection of simple and traditional dishes.
Kali orexi: Bon appetit!
Basics of the Cretan Diet
Greece is famous for its food. Moussaka, gyros, or pastitsio to name just a few. However, there are Greek dishes that are less known but equally, if not more, delicious. And Crete is full of them!
The Cretan Diet, which some considered even healthier than the Mediterranean diet, includes the exclusive use of extra virgin olive oil, lots of fruits and seasonal vegetables, pulses, cereals, and just a little meat.
The way locals cook on the island relies almost exclusively on local products, and can be traced back to ancient times. Minoans knew and used olive oil and local wine, the same way that Cretans do in modern times. However, the local cuisine also received the influence of the several years of Turkish occupation.
There are many dishes that can often be found (with quite similar names) in Turkish cuisine… starting from the simplest of all: Coffee!
>>Learn everything about Greek bread<<
What Ingredients Will I find in Cretan Dishes?
Eager to know more, these are some of the ingredient you can expect to find in the local cuisine…
Vegans and vegetarians will find paradise on Crete! There are so many dishes that include only vegetables that you’d be surprised. Many locals observe different fasting periods in the year respecting the tradition of the Orthodox Church, but does not really mean that they eat just boring salads or plain boiled veggies. The selection of vegetarian dishes is impressive.
Besides, during the times when the island was under Turkish occupation, meat was an expensive ingredient to obtain. Cretans survived cultivating their own land, therefore their diet has long been largely based on greens, vegetables and fruits!
Other than the overwhelming variety of wild greens, the island is known for the oranges and lemons, the olives, the pears, potatoes, and apples in the Lasithi Plateau. On the southern coast, there are extensive plantations of tomatoes, avocados, kiwis, bananas. Do try the Cretan banana! It’s smaller, tastier, and stunningly delicious.
On the island, you will be delighted at the sweet mell of fig trees. There’s an incredible variety of grapes, melons and watermelons, as well as apricots, peaches and all kinds of nuts.
Mutton is one of the local favorites and it’s usually served with wild greens or salads, as well as stewed onions or baked potatoes. Pork is also commonly served and there are several dishes that the Cretans love, including apaki and the well-known village sausages.
Goat is another staple on the island, it can be cooked on the spit, poached with rice (pilaff), or with a more sophisticated touch, sprinkled with honey or petimezi (an ancient grape syrup still used on the island).
The island has a strong mountain character, that’s why many visitors are surprised to find that the staple of the island is more goat than fish, or mutton instead of octopus. Yes, despite being an island!
However, locals do eat fish often served with vegetables or cooked in soups. Fish is a favorite during some important Catholic celebrations, but not consumed during during the long fasting periods that take place in the religious calendar.
Cheese is another staple food in Crete. They are produced all over the island and some of them even vary from region to region. For instance, if you compare the savory myzithra cheese produced in Chania to the sweet, delicate one served in Lasithi you’re bound to believe you’re tasting two completely different varieties of cheese.
Kefalotyri is another cheese that has been produced on the island for centuries and buying it in Chania or in the Lasithi Plateau can make all the difference. Other cheeses include the Cretan Graviera, made with milk from goat and sheep, Anthotyros, Tyrozouli from Psiloritis, and Tiromalama (malaka cheese, if you allow the expression). Pichtogalo (or Galomyzithra) from Chania is a delicious product of appellation of origin.
Finally, a word must be spent on staka. This unique product is made with milk cream, which is heated and made a bit dense with a small amount of flour. The result is a creamy, thick sauce that locals love to eat with fried eggs or French fries. Definitely a must try on the island.
Extra virgin, fragrant, spicy, walnutty… you can create as many adjectives as you wish to describe the fantastic characteristics that the local olive oil embodies. The island, the second olive oil producer in Greece, is home to two different olive varieties, koroneiki and tsounato. Both small and resistant to Crete’s hot and dry weather, these olives produce some of the top olive oils in the world.
>>Read more about Crete’s top Olive Oil<<
Eating in Crete: Some Traditions to Keep in Mind
Cretans eat late, at least after 9 pm though many sit at the table even later. The same happens for lunch, almost nobody sits at a table before 1 or even 2 pm. Don’t worry, restaurants are aware that this is not the case in the rest of the world, so you’ll be able to have a dining table ready at 6 or 7 pm.
Don’t be surprised if those sitting next to you are still enjoying their cold coffee. Yes, you guessed right, those are most probably Cretans!
Many Cretans prefer to have just one main meal per day, at midday, while at night, they tend to dine light, either with a selection of mezedes or with what might have remained from the main meal of the day. This is not the case for everyone, but it’s not uncommon either.
>>Read about Street food in Chania<<
What to Eat: Staple Dishes from Crete
We’re almost there. I know this is the real reason why you opened this article, but I didn’t want to offer a simple list of dishes to try without first introducing you to the basic secrets of Cretan gastronomy. So no yes, if you want to explore the unique Cretan cuisine and its dishes, here are 20 of the best local specialties.
When you visit a restaurant or tavern in Crete or anywhere in Greece, you always have the option to start with appetizers until the main dish comes. Dakos is one such appetizer, or “meze” as commonly called in Greek. Although this dish is a salad, it relates very much to a pizza or the Italian bruschetta.
This is because there are chopped tomatoes, olives, and crumbled feta or mizithra cheese on top of a slice of dried bread or barley rusk. In addition, herbs such as oregano and pepper give the plate an extra flavor. All you have to do to try it is order Dakos in any restaurant or tavern in eastern Crete.
Gamopilafo is a main dish consisting of meat and poultry, next to rice cooked in the meat broth. The name translates to “rise of the wedding”. Traditionally, Gamopilafo is the primary dish in every wedding feast in Crete. It became prevalent between the 17th and 19th centuries when owning rice, meat, and poultry came together with social status.
Hence, the family hosting the feast chose to prepare Gamopilafo that needed all three of these ingredients. In other words, this Cretan dish was a way to demonstrate the family’s wealth and fertility to the parents-in-law and the local society.
If you are a meat lover, you have to try Antikristo. This name does not refer to a specific kind of meat. Rather, it signifies a special cooking method that means “across the fire”. This old technique is popular among the population in the mountain areas of Crete, where lamb breeding is the main source of income.
Because the shepherds do not have modern equipment, they use this cooking method to prepare their meat. They place the goat or lamb on a round metal rail across a large fire, 10 to 20 centimeters away from the flames, and then let the meat get ready. Although this cooking method can take time, the taste is unique and the result worth waiting for.
There has never been such a popular but at the same time mysterious dish as Kleftiko. This is because, historically, you could never really know what Kleftiko consists of. This ambiguity derives from its name and history. Kleftiko means “stolen”.
A few hundred years ago, pirates used to raid Greek villages and use the stolen food to prepare meals on their ships. It was a mix of all the food which the pirates stole.
They called it Kleftiko and its legacy is still evident today, as you can find the dish in many Cretan restaurants. Although there are many versions, the main Cretan variation consists of a cooked pastry filled with meat, vegetables, and potatoes.
Patsas is another Cretan and Greek dish with a rich history. It comes from the Melanos Zomos (black soup) of antiquity. Ancient Cretans used to boil animal intestines with hooves to have a quick but energetic dish. This meal was ideal for warfare as the hooves and guts were light enough to carry without weighing the soldiers down.
Today, Patsas still consists of veal hoovers, tripes, and intestines, all boiled together. You can eat this soup usually in the morning for breakfast or as an appetizer before the main meal.
Because of its high protein value and medicinal effects, you can also use Patsas as an antidote against hangovers. If you are looking for any extra reason to party in Crete, here you are!
Boureki is a classic Cretan pie that consists mainly of potatoes and zucchini. Traditionally, it has an outer layer of dough and is available everywhere in Crete.
However, in Chania, you can try the local version that does not include the dough layer. It is a delicious vegetarian pie that you can eat for breakfast, brunch, or any other quick meal throughout the day.
Apart from potatoes and zucchini, you will also taste the flavor of mizithra and fresh mint. Of course, olive oil is always present like in every pie.
Fried Snails (Kohli bourbouristi)
If you are looking for something special, fried snails could be an unexpectedly tasty and unique dish. In many parts of Crete, snails are pan-fried in their shells, usually in hefty amounts of olive oil or on a bed of salt. Cooks usually add vinegar and different herbs such as rosemary or parsley to give an extra flavor to the dish.
You can eat the snails with toothpicks to take the meat parts out of the shells. If you are brave enough to do that, of course! Make sure you also order a glass of ouzo or raki if you want to enjoy this delicate dish.
Octopus with Chopped Pasta
A popular Cretan meal, usually made during the fasting period before Greek Easter, is the octopus with chopped pasta. It is a dish that you can find in many restaurants and taverns all around Crete.
Actually, you do not need to wait to get to Crete to taste that dish. It takes less than an hour to prepare and cook it. All you need is some fresh octopus, onions, olive oil, wine, herbs, chopped pasta, and trimmed tomatoes. You can boil the octopus and prepare the pasta like you always do. Just remember to use the juice of the octopus to boil the pasta.
Sarikopitakias are small fried cheesy pastries that you can eat during breakfast or any other time as a quick snack. These small pies may also come as a dessert topped with honey and cinnamon in many Cretan restaurants. Or they can also be a savory starter when filled with local greeks, cheese, or spinach.
The name comes from the Turkish word “Sariki” which means turban and explains the spiral shapes of these mini pastries. Sariki also refers to a traditional headdress worn by Cretan men during celebrations. If you happen to find that dessert in a Cretan restaurant, don’t miss the opportunity to order and taste this unique specialty.
Spoon sweets are delicious sweet preserves, served in a spoon as a gesture of hospitality in many areas of Greece. Yet, Crete has its own traditions and exquisite delicacies when it comes to those desserts. Here, you can find spoon sweets made from cherry, peach, orange, and many other fresh, sour, and bitter fruits.
In addition, some also use vegetables to create their special spoon sweets. Be it tomato, pumpkin, or even cucumber. Not only can you order these desserts from restaurants and taverns alike in Crete, but you can also buy them in large quantities from any bakery or candy store.
If you do not want to wait until you get to Crete and taste the local Dakos, you can make a Cretan salad from ingredients you can find in your local grocery store. You can combine tomato, cucumber, onion, purslane, and barley rusk in a big bowl.
Well, that might be the official recipe, the truth is that Cretan salads will include whatever fresh ingredient you have, and it will always be delicious!
Add virgin olive oil if you have it, then toss and mix everything together. Finally, arrange it on a plate, top with myzithra cheese, and drizzle with Greek oregano. And ready to taste! This Cretan salad is served in many restaurants and taverns in Crete and is one of the most important dishes in a typical family lunch.
Sfakian pie is a crepe-thin pie that you can find only in the region of Sfakia in Crete. It is stuffed with soft cheese making it one of the most delicious and juicy pies in the whole of Greece, if not the world. Its ingredients include flour, mizithra, olive oil, and raki. You can eat it as a snack, starter, or dessert. You decide.
Apart from the local taverns and stores in the region, there is an annual event called the Sfakian Pie Festival that takes place every August in the mountain village of Sfakia. There, you have the opportunity to indulge in one of the most delicious gastronomic festivals in the entirety of Crete.
For all the meat lovers out there, a visit to Crete would be incomplete if you don’t try the local Addirittura Gardumia. This dish is a special meze made from lamb intestines. Traditionally, the population in the mountainous areas of Crete consider this dish one of the most luxurious and delicious plates they can have.
They save the lamb guts in low temperatures- fridges if they have- and take them out only for special occasions, such as Christmas, Easter, or weddings. In general, Gardumia is cooked in three phases: first in a pot to fry it, then on the coals, and finally in the oven. The final result is simply exquisite.
If you happen to be in Crete around Greek Easter, you will notice the locals eating Kalitsounia all the time. From breakfast or snack to brunch or side with the coffee. These pastries are carefully handmade and shaped into tiny cups filled with sweet cheese.
Depending on the region and time of your visit, the type of cheese may vary. However, the final result is always tasty. And it is so all year since you can find these even outside Easter. Local bakeries fry or bake them all year round. Some of them also sprinkle with cinnamon or sesame seeds. Yummy!
Although loukoumades can be found almost everywhere in Greece, Crete has their own specialties and hidden recipes. There are as many types and tastes of loukoumades as there are stores that cook them. Even the tiniest change in the recipe, proportions, or procedure used can bring completely different results.
However, these fried doughs always come together with ice cream, nuts, or honey. Hence, this is also a unique opportunity to try the Cretan honey or local ice cream flavors.
If you are lucky, loukoumades may be the “on the house” dessert you will have during dinner in one of the Cretan restaurants you will visit. If that is the case, you are the chosen one! Rejoice and enjoy!
Lamb with Stamnagathi is what it sounds: lamb served with stamnagathi, a local wild green. Although the dish is slightly bitter due to the herb, it still has an enjoyable taste, especially if the lamb is coming from the local shepherds.
Lamb is usually boiled and served with olive oil and lemon. If you are a meat lover, you want to taste this specialty. There is no way around it.
Another meat dish original to Crete is Tsigariasto. Made from goat or lamb, this delicious plate is cooked at very low temperatures for more than a few hours.
Although it may take quite some time to prepare, the wait is certainly worth it. Historically, and especially during the Ottoman years, locals used the delicious meat of the Cretan wild goat, also known as Kri-Kri to make this Cretan specialty.
Although Kri-Kri is now a protected species, the quality of the meat selected is always high. Be prepared for some of the finest meat dishes in Crete.
Marathopita is a delicious pie made in Crete and is available all over the island. Its ingredients include spinach, sorrel, and fresh onion.
The pie is also rich in fennel which adds an extra sense of freshness and flavor. All in all, it is a convenient choice for a takeaway snack or breakfast if you visit a local bakery.
If you are sick and tired of the traditional bread, then you have to try Paximadi, also known as rusks. These small but hard pieces of bread are repeatedly cooked to become some of the finest types of bread you will ever taste.
Although it may be hard to cut, you can soften it with water or olive oil before you serve it. It also has the added benefit that it can last for months in the pantry. Hence, you don’t need to worry about getting fresh bread every day. Very handy in emergency cases when you run out of fresh bread.
Last but not least, when you come to Crete, you have to try tsikoudia. If you don’t, here you have an extra reason to come back. Fair enough, raki is not a plate nor a snack. It is however the most popular alcoholic beverage in Crete.
There is a rumor that drinking a small glass of raki every morning once you wake up can bring longevity. If you are curious to know how Cretans make this famous beverage, you have to visit one of the hundreds of local wineries in Crete.
To not spoil the surprise, get ready to see and experience firsthand how tasteful and healthy the so-called “leftovers” of the wine-making process can be.
What to Drink: Wine Pairing in Crete
Are you wondering what you can drink when sampling such delicious dishes? Then head right now to this fantastic Cretan Wine guide made by the talented local sommelier Anna Maria Kambourakis! She knows literally everything about the wines of Crete and will definitely educate you when it comes to local sipping!
>>Have you ever tried Cretan raki? Read more here<<
Make Your Own Crete Food
Are you eager to try these dishes before you travel? Or are you already back home and longing for one of those unique Cretan dishes? Try your hand at Cretan cuisine! These are some of the books I keep in my kitchen and that I always check when cooking Cretan:
>>Check the best Cretan (and Greek) cookbooks<<
Natural, traditional, healthy, and tremendously tasty, the Cretan Diet s one of the main reasons to travel to Crete if you’re a foodie at heart.
The island of Crete is known and loved not just for its countless beautiful beaches, imposing mountains, and a relaxed atmosphere, but also for the unique cooking methods, simple but full of taste that give character to any Cretan table.
Seasonal, fresh, and essential, these staples of the Cretan diet are some of the things you should try if you’re still wondering what to eat in Crete.
Thanks to Anna from Unraveling wine who is a much better food photographer than me and contributed with some of the images!
Have you ever been tried any of these Crete dishes?
Let me know in the comments below!
Travel Plans for Crete?
More Resources to Organize Your Trip!
Start by heading right to my tips to plan a trip to Crete for in-depth details you need to know about Greece. You can also check my post to better know what to pack for a trip to the island or read this info to visit Crete with children!
Get in touch if you need extra help to plan your trip. If you want to tour West Crete, check my guide. Want more? Join my Private Facebook Group to connect with like-minded travelers who love Crete as much as you do!
Make Sure You’ve Got Everything For a Hassle-Free Vacation!
I never move around the islands without my Osprey backpack, a sturdy but light travel partner I just love. For short trips, I carry this little crossbody bag. If I drive, I pack my Nikon D7200 and a good travel guide: Lonely Planet’s Best of Greece & the Greek Islands.
For accommodation, I personally use Booking.com. Traveling to remote places is easier with Discover Cars. Other times, I join organized tours with GetYourGuide, which features anything from cooking lessons to airport transfer!
Are you coming to Crete any time soon?
Get in touch and let me know!
Guide to Driving in Crete: Everything You Need to Know
Where to Stay in Crete: Insider’s guide to the best areas on the island
Insanely Practical Tips to Plan a Trip to Crete
Discover + 45 Most Gorgeous Beaches in Crete (A guide by an insider!)
Discover the Most Beautiful Monasteries in Crete: Guide to Visit
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About the author:
Gabi has been living in Crete for the last five years. Here, she juggles being a solo mom, hosting culinary tours in the summer, translating, and working as a tech advisor.
She’s written for Greek Reporter, published two travel guides about Greece, and drunk more glasses of frappe than any regular person would be able to handle.
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