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Cretan Food and Nutrition

by George Portokalaki

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Cretan cuisine is one of the most tastiest and healthiest cuisines in the world. From historical evidence and mythology, we learn about Cretans’ nutritional preferences throughout the centuries as well as their fondness for basic products. Cretan food is said to be the ideal diet which ensures good health and long life. Research shows that people who eat according to Crete’s traditional ways, have less chance of suffering from heart disease, and are generally healthier even than people living in the neighboring Mediterranean countries.

Ancient civilization and food tradition passed on through generations

Greek diet is typically based on products that originate from the island’s farmlands and mainly includes plates of raw or home cooked greens, grains, pulses, vegetables, olive oil, and fruits. Cretan diet is based on fresh and natural produce that is cooked in their original form and only enriched with fresh spices and aromatic herbs that grow on the island of Crete. The taste and aroma of Cretan plates are perfectly balanced and recipes are typically passed on from older women to younger ones.


Fresh ingredients from the land and the sea

Most of the dishes are very colorful and well presented (big variety and combinations of vegetables, pulses, and greens) in Cretan diet, but taste still comes before the presentation. Basic ingredients are greens, vegetables, fresh herbs, spices, and olive oil. The salt and iodine of the Mediterranean Sea around the island, make lands particularly fertile, fortifying and enriching the agricultural products with their presence. The diet of locals also includes fish and other seafood almost in the same proportion as meat.


Traditional but improved through the creativity of Greek women

Homemade bread, olive oil, wine, and spoon desserts have nourished Cretans throughout the centuries. Crete’s cuisine never lacks in quality and quantity of foods, because housewives always cook creative dishes as casseroles, pies, stews, spoon desserts and so on, to the delight of real gourmands. Simple and healthy tastes support a centuries-old gastronomic tradition, so powerful and original that it features different specialties and traditional dishes at each and every festivity or local celebration.



Xompliasto koulouri, this amazing bakery is made by local women


The key is a simple and balanced diet

Greek vegetarian tastes are simple, and when someone wants to sense their identity, then they need to visit Greece. If you’ve never walked under the warm and bright sun of Greece, nor sat under an olive tree, smelled fresh thyme, oregano, sage, experienced simplicity over complexity, then it would be difficult for you to sense and comprehend the superiority and uniqueness of Greek vegetarian food, diet, and lifestyle. Greeks unwittingly follow the rules of simplicity and temperance using countless combinations of greens, herbs, and vegetables, eating vegetarian dishes that retain the aroma of tradition, foods rich in taste and flavor but also helpful for a balanced and healthy diet. 


List of top traditional Cretan dishes to try

  • Briam: Baked summer vegetables: Zucchini, eggplants, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, onions, parsley, olive oil, salt, pepper
  • Dakos: Rusks with fresh tomato, olive oil, feta cheese and oregano
  • Dolmades: Stuffed vine leafs: vine leafs, rice, onion, olive oil, tomato, salt, pepper
  • Fava: Yellow split pea puree: Puree, olive oil, onion
  • Gemista: Stuffed vegetables with rice: Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, zucchini squash, onion, parsley, olive oil, salt, pepper
  • Gygantes fournou: Oven roasted big white beans: white big beans, tomatoes, parsley, salt, pepper, olive oil.
  • Horiatiki: Greek salad: tomatoes, cucumbers, green pepper, onion, olives, olive oil, vinegar, salt, oregano
  • Horta vlitta me Kolokythia Vrasta: Boiled wild greens vlita with zucchini and potatoes, fresh lemon juice and raw olive oil
  • Hortopitakia: Small pies with greens dough: water, salt, olive oil, lemon juice, flour. Filling: greens like spinach, fennel, mint, parsley, leeks, spring onions, olive oil, salt, pepper
  • Kolokythakia tiganita: Fried courgettes
  • Kolokythoanthi: Stuffed zucchini Flowers: zucchini flowers, tomatoes, onions, parsley, rice, salt, pepper, olive oil
  • Kolokythokeftedes: Courgettes patties: Zucchini squash, onions, toasted bread, salt, pepper, flour, olive oil for frying
  • Koukia xera: Broad bean puree: Broad bean, salt, olive oil, lemon
  • Marathopyta: Fennel pie
  • Myzithropita me meli: Cretan soft cheese pie with thyme honey
  • Pantzaria: Beet salad: Beets, salt, olive oil, vinegar, garlic
  • Prasyni salata: Greens salad: Greens from the mountain, salt, onion, pepper, olive oil
  • Revithia: Chickpeas in flour lemon sauce Chickpeas, olive oil, onion, salt, pepper, flour, lemon juice.
  • Tiganites me Petimezi: Cretan pancakes with grapes syrup


Giorgos Portokalakis is the author of Cretan Food and Nutrition. This article has been republished and edited by permission. Read more about his published articles on this blog. Giorgos or George, owns Porto Club Travel Services and is a partner of BookCulinaryVacations.com .

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