Crete is world-renowned for its mouth watering cuisine and is a food lover's paradise. Its fertile soils and unpolluted waters make for an endless supply of locally sourced fresh vegetables, fruits, cheeses, meats and seafood; not to mention the regional herbs, outstanding olive oil and honey.
Since cattle are not native to the island most of Crete's meat dishes are prepared with either lamb or pork. The lamb in particular is of unparallel quality and probably due to the fact that herds graze outdoors on the 1000 or so native greens endemic to the island. These nutrient rich dark leafy greens (also known as horta) grow all over the island and are also an essential part of the Cretan diet. Served simply with olive oil and lemon they appear at almost every meal in Cretan households.
Cretan cheeses are also prepared from sheep or goat milk and include kefalotyri, graviera and ladotyri. Cretan yogurt is another surprising delight; made from sheep's milk its high fat content allows for its creaminess and it is often served drizzled with honey and walnuts as a dessert. Breads are typically dense and made from either rye or barley; rusk breads (paximadi) are particularly common in Crete and are served as small rounds of barley bread twice baked (making them hard as a rock) but when served are wetted, then drizzled with olive oil, tomatoes, feta and thyme which softens them (also known as 'Dakos' or the Cretan salad).
Many farmers in Crete have kept true to tradition and continue to produce their fare with traditional methods making for some of the tastiest and highest quality food in the country. Locally sourced olive oil is one treat that won't be missed as the Cretans use it in virtually everything they eat. Its importance to Cretan cuisine is of paramount importance and its nutritional value has long been thought to be the reason for the Cretans' incredible longevity and good health.
Finding a taverna that serves truly authentic Cretan fare can sometimes be tricky amongst the barrage of restaurants and tavernas catering to mass tourism, but there are many hidden jewels and standouts amongst the crowd.