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The food in Crete is one of the gastronomic treasures of Greek’s largest island.
It’s no wonder that those who visit for the ancient culture and stunning beauty are drawn into a love affair with Cretan food.
After spending five months exploring the specialties and local food in Crete, we quickly succumbed to the culinary temptations.
Crete food is simple and born from centuries old traditions. Everything is made with Crete’s local ingredients and copious amounts of extra virgin olive oil.
Dakos, bougatsa and kalitsounia are treasured. And local cheeses, honey and wine that are unique to the island round off the wonderful culinary delights.
It is said that Crete’s greatest treasure is found in its cuisine. And we wholeheartedly agree.
For the best authentic Cretan foods, consider this your ultimate gastronomy guide. Included are iconic appetizers, meat and fish dishes, desserts and drinks, and most importantly, and where to have them.
And, at the bottom of this guide is our Chania restaurant recommendations.
Enjoy a tasty culinary voyage in Crete.
Kalí óreksi (or bon appetit)!
Cretan Food and the Cretan Way of Life
Crete is naturally blessed with a rich and fertile landscape and a distinctive regional cuisine.
The Cretan diet is natural, 100% seasonal and it incorporates a lot of vegetables like wild greens, fruit and olive oil.
“It is zero km food” Aspassia Stavoulaki, Head of the Cretan Gastronomy Center, told us. What “is fashionable today, was simply a way of life in Crete.”
The food in Crete is simple food made with local ingredients. For years, Cretans have only eaten what the land produced.
A diet of wild greens, fruits, legumes, bread and barley rusks, little protein, plenty of olive oil was the basis of the Cretan diet.
This lifestyle included a lot of walking, little stress and the joy of sharing meals with friends and family.
The Cretan diet is one of the Mediterranean diets. And, there are two important hallmarks of the Cretan diet.
The first is the abundant olive oil consumption, which has played a central role in everyday life in Crete for more than 3,500 years.
And secondly, the rich variety of wild greens or horta which continue to feature prominently in Cretan cuisine.
Despite lifestyle changes and today’s modern way of life, elements of the Cretan diet still exist.
As you explore the local food in Crete, relish the Mediterranean flavors of one of the healthiest diets in the world.
A Word About “Xenia” or Greek & Cretan Hospitality
The warmth and hospitality we encountered in Crete was unlike anywhere else we have traveled to for food.
Cretans are some of the most welcoming people you’ll ever meet.
We went to Crete as visitors and after five months left with new friends and relationships built over Cretan food specialities.
The spirit of genuine Greek hospitality is something you will encounter on your travels to Crete.
According to the ancient Greek legends, Zeus, the father of the Gods, was born in Crete. He believed hospitality to be a sacred rule.
Generosity and courtesy was to be shown to those who are far from home in a principle referred to as “Xenia.”
In fact, one of the names given to Zeus was “Zeus Xenios” or protector of travelers or strangers.
On your food travels in Crete, expect to be welcomed graciously.
Tsikoudia or raki, the local spirit will break the ice while the hospitality and good food will turn you into friends.
Appetizers and Small Plates
The culture of sharing small plates and the company of friends is prevalent in Greece and in many Mediterranean cultures.
In Crete, most tavernas and local hosts will always offer little bites to go along with something to drink.
Following are some of the most popular Cretan appetizers and small plates you’ll find on the island.
1- Cretan Meze
No matter where you’ll be in Crete, you will run across Cretan meze or delicious small bites to share with friends.
The origins of these appetizers lie in eastern Mediterranean culture and are usually served to accompany drinks.
In Crete, the meze culture is well ingrained. Cretans don’t believe in drinking without eating.
So, at taverns, restaurants, cafes or “kafenios”, you’ll be welcomed with small plates of Cretan specialties to start out with.
The kinds of Cretan mezes vary based on seasonality and where you are on the island. Raki or Tsikoudia is always present and simple meze plates include olives, cheese and nuts.
More elaborate meze platters feature Cretan pies, meatballs, small salads and seasonal vegetables.
Along the coast, seafood fritters or marinated fish will also be included.
And, in the mountains, your Cretan meze platter may include dried ham or sausages.
Cretan meze tables are one of the most enjoyable features of Cretan daily life. In a relaxed atmosphere, you can enjoy tantalizing tastes and textures and a sense of companionship.
It’s a moment to slow down, raise a glass and enjoy little bites of some of the best food in Crete.
Where to Eat Meze In Crete
Meze are very popular at kafenios, the small and traditional Greek cafes. Traditionally family run businesses, kafenio serve as the social connectors in the Cretan villages or cities.
You will often see local people socializing over drinks and mezze at the kafenio.
One kaffeino that particularly stood out during our stay in Crete was Kafenio Minos. This kafenio, at the bottom of Minos street, is the perfect sightseeing place to watch the Saturday farmers market crowd.
For an authentic taste of Crete, grab a table at a kafenio, order meze and converse with locals.
2- Cretan Dakos – Greek Cretan Salad
Cretan dakos, also referred to as ntakos or koukouvagia, are one of the most popular meze or Cretan salad on the island.
This celebrated Crete food is made with Cretan rusks, tomatoes and Cretan extra virgin olive oil.
It is garnished with mizithra, a local fresh, soft sheep or goat cheese. A sprinkling of dried oregano and Kalamata olives bring out the bright and delightful flavors.
Rusk erroneously referred to as Cretan bread is actually known as paximadi in Greek. The Cretan rusk is the most well known and they are made of whole grain barley flour.
In Crete, barley rusk has a long history and tradition. The bread or rusk is literally twice-baked and traditionally made this way for preservation.
Today, barley rusk can be found on every Cretan table where they are used instead of bread.
They are also used in a variety of recipes and Cretan foods and most notably the Cretan dakos.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST RECIPE: Cretan Dakos are simple to make at home. Try this simple Cretan Dakos Recipe – Best Authentic Cretan Salad You Want To Make
Where to Eat Dakos in Crete
Dakos are found on almost all menus across the island. It is a dish that’s best enjoyed in the summertime when tomatoes are flavorful and in season.
We enjoyed some of our favorite dakos at To Dichalo restaurant which means “The Fork” in Greek.
This restaurant is located on the outskirts of Chania and offers a nice shaded outdoor seating area.
The combination of mizithra cheese, olive oil, sun-kissed tomatoes, and generous portions made for an irresistible taste sensation.
3- Kalitsounia – Most Traditional Cretan Pie
Kalitsounias are an inevitable treat while visiting Crete. These are small Cretan pies filled with spinach, onion, fennel and olive oil, or with mizithra cheese.
They are made in a crescent shape similar to empanadas or a square shaped and baked in the oven. You can also find them lightly fried in olive oil, a traditional preparation style from the villages.
Eaten in two bites or less, these delicate pies are very popular as an appetizer or as a welcome treat in a local’s homes.
Found throughout the island, you can find different versions of kalitsounia pies. In Chania, they are traditionally savory pies available all year round.
In Heraklion, the capital of Crete, you will find lihnarakia, the sweet version of kalitsounia, Cretan pies.
These tasty treats with a particular star shape, are as delicious as they are delicate.
The crust is between a cookie and pie. Soft, slightly crispy on the outside, with just enough softness to make it perfect.
The cream filling is made from soft mizithra cheese, making for an absolutely delightful dessert.
Where to Eat Kalitsounia
While very popular year round, these tasty small cheese pies are traditionally eaten around Easter. You will find kalitsounia pies available at every bakery in Crete.
Cafes, taverna and local restaurants serve kalitsounia for appetizers or meze.
Our favorite kalitsounia were from Epi, a local gourmet store in Chania.
Owned by Clara and Manolis, a husband and wife team, they specialize in Cretan food made from the best locally sourced ingredients.
They make a number of frozen pies including kalitsounia with seasonal Cretan produce. This is a great stop for excellent traditional Crete food that you can easily bake in your oven.
4- Kohli Bourbouristi – Cretan Snails
Snails are a delicacy that have been eaten on the island of Crete for millennia. We were quite surprised to see the abundance of snails at the local markets at the end of winter.
Known as” kohli” or chochlioi, snails have been eaten since ancient times as an inexpensive and flavorful source of protein.
Cooked in olive oil and eaten with wild greens, this was an inexpensive way of nourishing the family.
Snail consumption is a very Cretan characteristic not found in the rest of Greece. They are so popular on the island and there are more than 40 ways of cooking this specialty food in Crete.
One of the popular ways we enjoyed Cretan snails was pan fried with olive oil, rosemary and vinegar.
This particular dish is called “chochlioi boubouristi” and it was our favorite preparation style,
On your food travels in Crete, don’t miss this local delicacy with a long history.
Try your snails cooked in a red tomato sauce, vegetables, herbs, xinohondros, or in any of the myriad options available.
Where to Eat Snails in Crete
Snails are most popular in Crete during the fasting periods. Either during the 40 days before Greek Orthodox Easter or prior to Christmas celebrations.
It is not uncommon to see bags of snails available at the farmers market or even at the local supermarket Synka.
At To Dichalo restaurant we enjoyed snails simply prepared with rosemary and olive oil. While we ordered it as an appetizer, the serving was as bountiful as a main dish.
Light and flavorful this is a unique food in Crete worth trying before your main dishes.
Watch Our Food in Crete Highlight Video
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Vegetarian Cretan Food Specialties
Vegetables are a basic ingredient and used widely in Cretan cooking. The food in Crete at its core is based on what the land has to offer. As a result, Cretan cuisine features plenty of fruits, vegetables, greens and legumes.
Additionally, the Greek Orthodox religion calls for fasting for almost 200 days per year.
During this time meat, fish, and dairy are not consumed creating a wide range of vegetarian and vegan dishes.
Some of our favorite vegetable dishes were the artichokes, zucchini flowers, gigantes, stuffed tomatoes, green bean stew and more.
Below are unique Cretan vegetable based dishes you don’t want to miss.
5- Horta – Wild Greens
Wild greens known as “horta” have been eaten by Cretans for hundreds of years. These are plants that grow wild in the Cretan fields, olive groves or mountains.
The island of Crete is recognized for its global plant diversity and horta play a major role in the Crete diet and longevity of Cretans.
There are hundreds of wild greens and they are seasonal. Some of the popular ones are chicory, stamnagathi, radikia, wild asparagus, black mustard leaves, beet greens, curly endive and many more.
One particular wild green that was in season during our stay was stamnagathi, a variety of wild chicory. This plant grows only in the mountainous areas in Crete.
It is a slightly bitter wild green with a pleasant taste. And, it is usually boiled and served drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice.
Stamnankáthi is usually served with lamb dishes, fish, eggs and others. Rich in vitamins, calcium, iron and Omega 3 fats, it is believed to be one of the secrets to longevity.
Generally, horta is picked by women and some men and knowledge of the plants is passed down by generations.
We tried picking the plants in the Cretan mountainside and quickly developed a new appreciation for the difficult work.
You’ll find horta dishes in all tavernas or baked into delicious little Cretan pies.
Where to Eat Horta or Wild Greens
Similar to dakos, horta or wild greens are found on every restaurant menu. If you don’t see them, just ask your waiter and generally they should be able to prepare them on the spot.
Some of the tastiest wild greens we had were from Evgonia restaurant in Chania.
What we liked about their wild greens is the variety of mountain herbs they mixed together. Their selection did not include stamnagathi, exposing us to more horta flavors.
Evgonia takes pride in creating tasty Cretan food with the best local products and it is evident. We savored the horta with Cretan cheese and Stifado, another local food in Crete.
READ RELATED: 5 Reasons You Want To Have An Olive Oil Tasting in Crete
6- Xinohondros – Fermented Cracked Wheat With Sour Milk
Xinohondros is an ancient food and not one you will come across easily in restaurants and even tavernas in Crete.
However, it is a traditional food that is typically made in the villages during the summer months.
This Cretans food, xinohondros, is made with cracked wheat and sour goat milk. This is one of the oldest techniques of preserving milk.
Once the ingredients are mixed together, the preparation is chunked down into small pieces and dried in the sun.
It is also known as trahana in other eastern Mediterranean cultures. We first came across trahana in Bulgaria while visiting the wineries in Melnik.
Xinohondros is mainly combined into soups and stews but it can also be prepared in milk or with vegetables.
We made it at our Airbnb with onions and tomatoes for a flavorful bulgur Cretan style dish.
Where To Eat Xinohondros in Crete
While in Chania, we were introduced to the Women’s Cooperative of Palea Roumata.
This women’s cooperative works to preserve the rich history of Crete food traditions.
They hand make sweet and savory Cretan foods using traditional recipes and locally sourced ingredients.
It was at the cooperative where we were first introduced to xinohondros, one of their specialties.
Their products are available at some Synka supermarkets on the west side of Crete.
One restaurant that prepares and uses xinohondros in their cuisine is Dounias in Drakona.
A true farm-to-table restaurant, Dounias offers tasty traditional Cretan dishes cooked in clay pots.
7- Chaniotiko Bouréki – Greek Boureki from Chania
Boureki is a traditional dish made with sliced potatoes, zucchini, Cretan mizithra cheese and mint.
It is a delicious vegetable pie originally from the island of Crete. The name pays tribute to its origins as “Chaniotiko Bouréki” or Cretan Boureki.
The pie consists of a phyllo dough base followed by seasonal vegetables and phyllo on the top.
On the inside, the typical ingredients are sliced layers of potatoes, zucchini, cretan cheese and fresh chopped mint leaves.
This popular Crete food is prepared slightly differently at restaurants and by home cooks. You’ll find some versions with layers of different ingredients and others that use a combination of different Cretan cheeses.
Generally, in the warmer summer months, tomatoes are added to the boureki pie. While in the winter months, squash or pumpkin are substituted for zucchini.
Regardless of how you have it, boureki is a scrumptious food in Crete, for Cretan Mediterranean flavors.
Where to Eat Boureki in Crete
Many local restaurants in Crete have boureki on their menu. One of our favorite restaurants for boureki was Kouzina EPE is a family-run restaurant in the center of Chania.
The restaurant specializes in Greek and Mediterranean cuisine and always has a daily selection of Cretan specialties.
The boureki portions are generous and hearty and filled with tasty seasonal vegetables.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST RECIPE: How To Make The Best Authentic Boureki Chania, Recipe
8- Marathopita – Fennel Pie
Marathopita is a round flat thin pie made with flour and olive oil and filled with fennel. In the Greek language, “maratho” means “fennel” and “pita” is for pie.
Fennel is a very popular and aromatic herb in Crete that is present in several dishes in the Cretan cuisine.
You’ll come across it particularly in seafood or snail dishes where it is used to accentuate the flavors.
Similar to wild greens, fennel has been long used on the island of Crete for its health properties and aromas.
Marathopita makes for an ideal snack. Eaten in a few bites, it is prepared lightly fried using a dash of olive oil.
Served slightly crispy, it is a delicious treat with unique aromas you’ll remember long after leaving Crete.
Where To Eat Fennel Pie
You can find homemade fennel pies prepared fresh and then frozen for purchase in local gourmet stores.
Our favorite gourmet store Epi, is our recommended stop for marathopita and other Cretan food specialties. Get the handmade pies by Clara and make them in your kitchen in less than two minutes.
You will also find marathopita pies at restaurants offered as a snack or an appetizer. Kalderimi restaurant serves tasty marathopita with other traditional Crete foods.
Meat Dishes in Crete
On the island of Crete, sheep and goats are the most commonly found livestock. Cows, we learned, are typically not reared due to the mountainous and difficult terrain.
For this reason, most of the meat used in Cretan cuisine comes mostly from goats and sheep.
And unsurprisingly, cheese made from goat and sheep milk are also popular in the food in Crete.
Pigs are also reared and their pork is used in a variety of Crete foods like sausages, apaki, stews and more.
9- Antikristo – Traditional Cretan Grilling
Antikristo is a traditional way of grilling meat that is deeply rooted in Cretan culture. This technique is also found in different parts of the world and we experienced it in Patagonia, Argentina.
in Crete, this practice dates back to antiquity. Typically, a young lamb or in some cases a kid goat are cooked slowly across a fire.
The meat is cut into pieces and passed through huge skewers. These skewers are placed around a fire opposite each other and cook slowly for 4 – 6 hours.
What makes Antikristo grilling unique is the fact that the meat cooks in its own fat with the heat generated from the flames.
The fire does not come in direct contact with the meat allowing the lamb to develop its own juicy flavors.
Antikristo has a long history in Crete. It was a cooking technique used by rebels during the Turkish occupation to cook quickly and covertly.
Meat lovers should not miss Crete’s most famous way of cooking lamb while visiting the island.
Pair your Cretan lamb with Cretan wine and relish beautiful moments on the island.
Where to Eat Antikristo in Crete
While Antikristo has a long time tradition in Crete, it is not offered at all restaurants.
To Antikristo, as the name suggests, not only offers antikristo, it is also one of the best restaurants in Chania.
Their commitment to using only high quality local ingredients has driven their success.
You can watch the process of cooking antikristo as you take a peek in the kitchen. We had pork and lamb antikristo and still rave about our meal.
Along with antikristo, the menu has something for everyone from meat lovers to vegetarians.
This quaint restaurant on the outskirts of Chania is definitely worth a visit.
Watch Our Short Video at To Antikristo Restaurant
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10- Tsigariasto – Lamb or Goat Slow Cooked in Olive Oil
Tsigariastó or Τσιγαριαστό is a signature food in Crete from the western part of the island.
It is typically lamb or goat cooked slowly at very low temperatures in extra virgin olive oil.
Once the cooking begins, we learned, the pot is not opened. The meat is allowed to become tender while preserving its nutrients.
In the past, this traditional Cretan food was made with Kri-Kri or Cretan wild goat meat.
We enjoyed tsigariasto several times on the island.. We mostly had it with lamb and savored the melt-in-the-mouth tender flavors.
This delicacy from western Crete needs to be on the must-eat list for traditional food in Crete.
Where to Eat Tsigariasto
Tsigariasto is a popular dish and you can easily find it at tavernas or restaurants focusing on Cretan dishes.
Secret Tastes located in the center of Chania is one of the restaurants we recommend for Cretan food. All their ingredients are sourced from their family farms and the flavors are exquisite.
We highly recommend their flavorful lamb dish, served with wild greens or horta and hand-cut french fries.
11- Stifado – Cretan Style Stew
Stifado is a beloved rustic slow-cooked stew. While you can find it across the country, the Cretan regional variety is very particular.
Originally, stifado was made using wild hare meat that Cretan men would go hunting for. Over the years with a decline in the hare population and the convenience of modern life, rabbit is now used.
Restaurants in Crete also offer versions of stifado with beef and even snails.
Eaten in the winter months, stifados are hearty and comforting stews. What makes it so particular is the use of specific local baby onions used to make stifado.
These onions were abundantly available at our local farmers market but we only later learned they are used specifically for stidado.
Generally, this traditional stew is made with succulent meat that is slow cooked with a lot of onions.
The beef versions we enjoyed also had a dash of local Cretan wine, herbs and spices for wonderful rich and aromatic flavors.
This traditional Crete food is usually served with potatoes. Though sopping up the stew with village bread is highly recommended.
Stifado is an unmissable food in Crete. The slow-cooked meat and the blend of flavors and herbs elevate this humble stew to gastronomic pleasures.
Where to Eat Stifado
Stifado is another Cretan meat classic that’s often served at tavernas, local restaurants and even touristic restaurants.
We had our first stifado and a flavorsome beef version at Evgonia, simply served with horta and homemade fries.
Secret Tastes makes a stifado version with rabbit that we could not miss. We relished this wonderful dish and recommend either place to enjoy it.
12- Apaki – Smoked and Salted Pork
Apaki, is a delicacy food in Crete made from smoked and salted lean pork. This was one of the first Cretan food specialties we were encouraged to seek out.
Lean pork, typically tenderloin or pork leg is marinated in mountain herbs, olive oil, vinegar and then smoked.
The herbs and spices used, length of time and wood used for smoking varies by the person preparing the apaki.
This way of preparation is believed to have been the way meat was preserved during the Byzantine times.
Apaki is usually eaten as meze on a charcuterie platter or incorporated into omelettes, salads or dishes.
We tried apaki several times and noted the subtle differences in the preparation styles. Claire enjoyed the cured meat much more than I did.
Apaki is best enjoyed with a glass of raki or tsikoudia, the traditional Cretan distilled spirit.
Where to Eat Apaki
Many restaurants offer apaki as part of their meze platter. Feel free to ask your waiter for this Cretan delicacy as you order your platter.
Alternatively, you can find apaki at butcher or at gourmet food stores. In Chania, we stumbled upon such a small gourmet food store in the city center.
Amongst their olive oil, raki, and cheese products, we found sliced apaki in small portions. The friendly store owner welcomed us with a glass of raki as we were buying our apaki.
This is a friendly and recommended stop as you see the sights in the center of Chania.
13 – Hirino Me Selino – Cretan Pork with Celery Stew
Pork with celery stew is a classic Cretan favorite traditionally eaten during the winter months.
What makes this dish particularly exceptional is the use of a specific Greek variety of celery known as selino.
Different from what we are familiar with, this type of celery is leafy with thin stalks. Generally, the meat and celery are cooked separately.
After the pork and celery both become tender they are combined in a traditional egg and lemon sauce known as avgolemono.
We loved this Cretan food and highly recommend you seek it out. The hint of lemon and flavors from local herbs makes for a wonderful explosion of flavors.
Where to Eat Pork With Celery Stew
Patsas Agnos Marmaritzakis inside the main market or Agora in Chania was our favorite market eatery for traditional Crete food.
Opened in 1928, this is the oldest restaurant in the market. Their focus is on traditional and seasonal food in Crete.
We were in Crete during the winter months and had the privilege of trying Cretan foods like pork with celery stew.
Regardless of whatever period in the year you visit Chania, Crete, plan on stopping at Patsas Agnos Marmaritzakis for traditional food.
14- Gamopilafo – Cretan Wedding Rice
Gamopilafo is one of the most celebrated traditional Cretan dishes. The word “Gamopilafo” means rice of weddings in Greek.
Unsurprisingly, it is the primary dish at weddings and also served at village of family festivities.
This special rice is cooked in meat broth from either boiled goat, lamb or rooster and was traditionally cooked by men.
The meat cooks separately and boils for anywhere from 4 – 6 hours.
Once the meat is tender, the rice is cooked in the broth. The combination of the two are served with local staka butter, lemon wedges, and black pepper for taste.
Due to pandemic restrictions, we did not have a chance to taste this specialty food in Crete.
Outside of festivities, gamopilafo is also served at traditional Cretan restaurants.
This rich and creamy dish is a local Cretan food we look forward to trying on our next visit.
If you see it on a menu during your travels to Crete, make this the one specialty food you order.
Where to Eat Gamopilafo
Gamopilafo is a Cretan food that is traditionally served at weddings or at special occasions.
Nowadays, you can also find it at local taverns and at some gourmet restaurants.
Peskesi in Heraklion is one of the local gastronomic restaurants that offers a savory Gamopilafo dish.
Located in a charming historical mansion in the center of town, Peskesi focuses on local food and traditional recipes.
Many products come from their own garden where they strive to bring the best local Cretan products to your dining table.
This is one restaurant not to miss when you are in Heraklion.
Fish and Seafood in Crete
Despite Crete being an island, we were surprised to learn that fish and shellfish are not eaten as much as we imagined.
Cretans today tend to eat more meat dishes which are typically more affordable than seafood.
However, during fasting and religious holidays, fish and seafood dishes are consumed in great amounts.
Also, along the harbour cities across the island, you’ll find fish taverns where you can try fish from the Cretan seas.
On the island, fish dishes are prepared in four main styles. You can have the fresh catch of the day grilled to perfection.
Fish soups are popular particularly in the cooler months. You’ll also find fish and seafood made into stews or casseroles. And lastly, fish pan fried in olive oil.
15- Cuttlefish with Fennel and Olives
Being in Crete during Lent gave us the opportunity to taste unique food specialties and observe local traditions.
Cuttlefish is one of the most authentic Crete foods eaten during Lent. While abstaining from meat and dairy products, octopus, squid and cuttlefish are popular.
Fennel, which grows abundantly at this time of the year is used to make this classic Cretan food.
Cuttlefish with fennel and olives was one food in Crete we relished. The aromatic fennel really complimented the tender cuttlefish.
And, the olives brought out the flavors even more when eaten together.
Under no circumstances is this Crete food to be missed during your travels to the Greek island.
Where to Eat Seafood in Crete
There are a few notable restaurants dedicated to fish and seafood on the island of Crete.
One of the most picturesque and charming restaurants in Crete is Thalassino Ageri.
Opened seasonally during the months of April to November, this specialty restaurant is located by the waterfront in Chania.
Their menu has all the traditional seafood dishes you would want to try in Crete.
Make sure to book a table at Chania restaurant to enjoy one of the most romantic evenings on the island.
Cretan cheese is a symbol of the health and longevity that Cretans enjoy. Used in baked dishes, fried, grated on food, or served as a side dish, cheese is an integral part of Cretan culinary culture.
With cows rarely found on the island, most of the traditional cheeses are made with sheep and goat milk.
16- Graviera, Mizithra, Anthotyros – Must Try Cretan Cheese
The most famous cheese on the island isn’t Greek Feta cheese but Graviera, often considered the “King of Cretan cheeses.”
Graviera is a hard cheese made from a mix of at least 80% raw sheep’s milk and goat milk. It is a buttery cheese with a range of aromas.
Sweeter tastes for milder Graviera, and nutty and spicy for the aged and mature Graviera.
Graviera is typically eaten as is or with bread or as an appetizer with olives, tomatoes and wine.
It is one of the few Greek cheeses to be recognized with a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status.
While in Crete, we fell in love with Graviera. We even took on the local habit of pairing it with honey for wonderful contrasting flavors and textures.
Another popular Cretan cheese is mizithra, a fresh whey cheese made with sheep or goat milk or a combination of the two.
This fresh cheese is slightly sour and creamy with a crumbly texture. Mizithra is used in many dishes, from salads like dakos, to a variety of sweet and savory pies.
One of our favorite Cretan cheese is fresh Anthotyros, a mild and soft sheep and goat cheese. It is served as a side dish to accompany horta or other sour dishes to soften the taste.
Dried Anthotyros is another Cretan cheese that’s quite different from its fresh version. Once dried, Anthotyros turns hard and salt is added making it much saltier than the fresh version.
It is perfect to grate and sprinkle onto pasta dishes or salads.
While not technically a cheese, you might come across Staka, a milky clarified butter made from sheep or goat milk.
It is popular on the west side of the island and traditionally used to prepare eggs. Try it with scrambled eggs or omelets. You’ll thank us later!
Where to Eat Cretan Cheese
You’ll have no difficulty finding Cretan cheese on the island. Villages have their own artisanal varieties and there are plenty of cheese shops all over the island.
The staff at the stores will be happy to have you sample their cheese as long as you are ready to buy some. At some stores, you’ll also find cheese vacuum sealed for travel or gift giving.
Balantinos in the center of Chania is a great stop to appreciate the range of Cretan cheeses.
We also enjoyed visiting the farmers market in Chania where we met cheese vendors with amazing raw cheeses.
The cheese vendors at the market were our trusted sources for Graviera from Chania and Mizithra cheese from Sfakia.
At restaurants, you can taste Cretan cheese in meze, or in dishes like dakos, boureki, kalitsounia, sfakian pies and more.
Cretan Desserts and Sweets
In Crete, you’ll find a plethora of tempting desserts and sweets. Just walk into any bakery or look at the options at any restaurant menu and there’s something for every kind of sweet tooth.
Like the food, Cretan desserts are made with locally sourced ingredients. Cretan honey, nuts, citrus fruits, cream and local cheeses, are used to create scrumptious desserts.
There are also special desserts linked to certain holidays like Christmas and Easter. We had the delightful pleasure of discovering Vasilopita, a New Year’s cake.
And, the Christmas melomakarona honey cookies, made in Cretan-style, continuously tempted our taste buds.
There is incredible diversity when it comes to Cretan desserts. The following will get you started as you explore the delightful food in Crete.
17- Yiaourti me Meli – Yogurt with Honey
Quite simply, yiaourti me meli is Greek yogurt with honey. While it is enjoyed all over the country, the Cretan version is most renowned for its unique Cretan thyme honey.
This simple treat that is enjoyed at any time of the day combines creamy yogurt with aromatic Cretan thyme honey.
Once we discovered the wonderful flavors, we couldn’t get enough of it. We would simply add crumbled walnuts and enjoy it for breakfast, snack or light dessert.
This deceptively simple treat is to be savored throughout your Cretan travels.
The intense floral aromas of thyme honey from Crete infuses unforgettable layers of aromatic flavors.
Where to Eat Cretan Yogurt and Honey
Most hotels serve this Cretan delicacy for breakfast. Alternatively, you can also order it at restaurants. This is the best local breakfasts you can treat yourself to.
In Chania, we recommend staying at Kydon The Heart City Hotel.
Located in the center of town, opposite to the main market hall, you will get a wonderful Greek and Cretan breakfast included in your stay.
The hotel restaurant is also worth a visit with a chef that puts Crete food in the spotlight.
18- Sfakian Pies – Cheese Pies from Sfakia
Sfakian pies are a local delicacy from Sfakia, a small town located in the mountainous southern region of Crete.
The region of Sfakia is known for having excellent local produce, from local cheese to wild honey and olive oil.
Sfakian pies are traditional flat and thin pies filled with mizithra cheese. Popular throughout Crete, they can be eaten savory or sweet.
Heated up briefly in a frying pan with olive oil, this pie makes a tasty savory treat. Alternatively, it can also be served sweet with a drizzle of Cretan thyme honey.
We found both sweet and savory versions to be delectable and had a hard time choosing one style.
Thoroughly enjoyable, they are easy to eat at any time of the day.
Where to Eat Sfakia Pies
You don’t have to travel all the way to Sfakia to eat these divine cheese pies. Sfakia pies are now popular throughout Crete and even in mainland Greece.
Nevertheless, the scenic drive from Chania to Sfakia is worth it. The White Mountains serve as a backdrop as you stop at the place where these succulent pies were born.
You will find restaurants serving these unique, handmade pies mostly for dessert.
We also enjoyed them from Epi, our favorite gourmet store in Chania.
19- Xerotigana – Fried Dough Strips with Honey and Nuts
Xerotigana is a festive dessert or sweet and one of the most traditional from the island of Crete.
They are delicate fried pastry strips made with a unique rolling technique. A generous drizzle of honey syrup, sesame and nuts complete it, making it an irresistible Cretan sweet.
On special occasions like weddings, engagements and baptisms, xerotigana are served to guests.
You’ll also find them available during the Christmas holidays and some bakeries and sweet shops carry them all year long.
What makes xerotigana such a quintessential food in Crete is the use of traditional Cretan ingredients. The dough includes raki from the island.
The xerotigana are fried in Cretan extra virgin olive oil and the honey syrup made withCretan thyme honey.
After trying xerotigana at local bakeries, we fell in love with the ones made by the women of Palea Roumata Women’s Cooperative.
We visited the cooperative and were impressed by the delicate technique needed to fold the strips.
The light and airy dough topped with sesame and walnuts are irresistible. A truly delicious Cretan sweet worth seeking out on your travels.
Where to Eat Xerotigana
In addition to trying xerotigana at local bakeries, we had our favorite xerotigana at the Palea Roumata Women’s Cooperative. Lightly fried and drizzled with a spoonful of thyme honey, we relished these delectable sweets.
If you don’t visit the Women’s Cooperative in Palea Roumata, you can find their products at most Synka grocery stores.
Look for their distinctive packaging and find their other biscuits and local pasta products.
Made with local ingredients and traditional recipes, everything from the Women’s Cooperative is exceptional.
20- Bougatsa – Greek Custard Pastry
On the island of Crete, bougatsa is a local specialty in the towns of Chania and Heraklion.
In Chania, it is an iconic breakfast food in Crete made with the local mizithra cheese. It is so popular that it is known as “Bougatsa Chanion” throughout the country.
Bougatsa is a Greek breakfast pie made with smooth and crunchy phyllo pastry sheets with various fillings.
In Chania, the best bougatsa from Iordanis, a store that has been making bougatsa for more than 90-years.
What makes their bougatsa so popular is the use of local mizithra or “pichtagalo” cheese PDO. This cheese is made from goat or sheep milk and it gives the bougatsa a slightly sour flavor.
Additionally, the phyllo dough is handmade using flour, water, salt and Cretan olive oil.
If your travels take you to Chania, try bougatsa at the first opportunity you can.
However, if traveling to Crete is not on your agenda, use the simple recipe below and make Chania style bougatsa at home.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST RECIPE: Bougatsa Recipe – How To Make Chania Style Bougatsa From Crete
Where to Eat Bougatsa
In Chania, there are two popular bougatsa pastry shops in the city. Each has their passionate die-hard fans but you really can’t go wrong with either one of them.
We tried them both, several times. And, although they are both very good, we preferred the silky smooth tastes and textures of Iordanis Bougatsa.
The other popular store is Bougatsa Chania also in downtown Chania.
21- Greek Spoon Sweets From Crete
Greek spoon sweets are generally fruits preserved in syrup. They are small and delicious bites typically served as a gesture of hospitality to welcome guests.
In Greek they are known as γλυκό του κουταλιού, which translates to “sweet of the spoon.”
In taste and texture, they are similar to marmalade. And in Crete, an island full of citrus fruits, we had orange, bergamot and mixed fruits flavors.
Typically, these spoon sweets are homemade and relatively healthy as they don’t include any additional sugar.
Generally, spoon sweets are eaten on their own accompanied with a large glass of water.
We particularly enjoyed spoon sweets layered on Greek yogurt.
Savor the tastes and tradition of these spoon sweets as you acknowledge Greek and Cretan hospitality.
Where to Eat Cretan Spoon Sweets
You might get spoon sweets as a welcome treat as you settle down in your accommodations in Crete.
That’s how we first discovered spoon sweets treats when we took residence at our Airbnb for the winter.
If you are in Chania, you can find spoon sweets or Cretan marmalade at Terra Verde organic store.
The store is located in the Old Town, not far from the main Agora or covered market. We highly recommend going there for wonderful Cretan food treasures.
Cretan Traditional Drinks
Drinks in Crete play a central role on the Cretan table.
Many of the local beverages, like wine, date as far back as ancient Greece. Raki or Tsikoudia, the traditional distilled drink will welcome you.
Greek coffee and the iced versions known as frappe are widely consumed. And craft breweries are popping up across the island.
The following are uniquely Cretan traditional drinks you don’t want to miss.
22- Cretan Tea
Cretan tea is said to be one of the secrets of longevity in Crete. The tea is made with wild herbs that only grow in the mountains of Crete.
Two of the main teas that you should absolutely try are Dikatamos or Dittany tea and Malotira or Mountain Tea.
Diktamos is a wild plant that grows in the mountains and gorges of Greece. It was known by the ancient Greeks as the herb of love.
It has numerous health properties and is said to heal wounds, soothe stomach ache, treat circulatory issues, headaches and more.
It is also used as an aphrodisiac and also to fight colds and the flu.
Diktamos has a grassy and herby taste and it was my preferred Cretan tea.
Malotira or Mountain tea, Claire’s favorite has more delicate and aromatic notes. Malotira comes from the latin words “Male” illness and “tira” to pull away.
In a nutshell it is the herb that removes all the disease.
Its incredible virtues have been recognised since ancient times and Malotira is widely consumed in Crete.
Its natural properties are numerous including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, cold and flu prevention prevention.
It lowers blood pressure and helps reduce anxiety, allergies and stomach aches.
Where to Have Cretan Tea
On the island you can find the tea herbs at several gourmet food stores. One we particularly recommend is Terra Verde in Chania near the Agora or main market.
By the bus station, To Flaski also sells many delicious local products including herbs to make tea.
You can also find tea in bags at the local Synka supermarket from the Kopeli brand.
23- Raki or Tsikoudia – Cretan Spirit
When you visit Crete, you will certainly come across raki also known as tsikoudia on the western side of the Island.
Raki is one of the most popular and traditional Cretan drinks, made by almost every family with a vineyard.
Raki is typically made from crushed grapes or left over grapes after winemaking. It follows a fermentation process before being distilled one, two or three times.
We preferred raki that went through further distillations and offered a smoother finish and aromatic taste.
It’s similar to tsipouro from mainland Greece or other brandys from the Mediterranean region. Rakia from the Balkans or Grappa from Italy, are made using similar distillation methods.
In Crete, there is always an opportunity to cheer with raki before, during or after your meal. And you’ll quickly learn the word “Yamas” which translates “To our health”.
Where to Have Raki
A visit to Crete will not be complete without tasting this local spirit. You will often be welcomed with a shot of raki at restaurants or by families at their homes.
We have no doubt that you will have your fair share of tasting and enjoying raki while visiting Crete.
If you are looking to taste a premium raki or to buy it as a gift, there are a few wineries that make raki or tsikoudia for purchase.
We recommend the tsikoudia from Manousakis. With a smooth and delicate taste, it is worth checking out.
24- Cretan Wines
Cretan wines are a long-standing tradition on the island of Crete. Dating back to the Minoan civilization, Crete wine has been produced for more than 4,000 years.
There are 11 distinctive local grape varieties. Winemakers today are making excellent Cretan wines from these ancient grape varieties.
White, aromatic and fresh wines are popular. Vidiano white wine, considered a rising star, is a Cretan wine often referred to as Greek Viognier.
If you enjoy red wine, two popular varieties include Kotsifali and Mandilari. These hearty reds offer an authentic taste from the Greek Island.
In Chania, don’t miss out on trying Romeiko wines unique to this region of Crete.
Often served as homemade wine in local restaurants, the taste can vary greatly. But it’s worth a try!
Where To Have Cretan Wines
Most of the Cretan restaurants will have a selection of local wines. One restaurant that stands out for its wine list is Salis located at the Old Port in Chania.
They have a comprehensive selection of local Cretan wines and will gladly guide you to your choice.
In Chania, Maria, the owner of the wine store Miden Agan offers wine tasting for you to sample the different local wines.
This is a great option if your time in town is short. If you have time, we highly recommend visiting the local wineries.
See our guide below for the full details about the wineries and the wine tasting experiences.
More Local Food Experiences and Recipes
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Curious by nature, Rosemary loves exploring new flavors and connecting with locals. She shares her insights and culinary finds from her travels to inspire people to connect local through food.