Crete is not only the largest of the Greek islands, with peaceful beaches, secret swimming spots, historic old towns and mountaintop villages, but it also has a strong food culture.
The island's fertile soil means many different crops are available for use in Cretan cooking. If you are a foodie and want to discover more about Cretan food, what to try, and where to eat in Crete, you're in the right place.
What is traditional Cretan food?
Traditional Cretan food is synonymous with the Mediterranean diet and involves eating lots of local products (cereals, fruits, seasonal vegetables, wild greens, fish, wine, little meat, and not a lot of dairy). Did you know that the Mediterranean diet is consistently ranked as one of the most healthy diets in the world?
The Cretan diet is about simplicity but that doesn't mean compromising on flavor. Cretan cooking uses a lot of olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and herbs to add flavor to fresh ingredients. Typically food is baked or grilled, and dishes tend to be exceptionally tasty due to the high quality of the local ingredients.
Because most of the food you'll find in Crete is local and not imported, eating out at restaurants and tavernas is very affordable. Try to avoid tourist hot spots and look out for local spots where you'll get to taste authentic food and get good value.
Keep in mind that people eat late in Crete, so if you go out for dinner at 7 pm, you may be the only one in the restaurant! Places start to get lively from around 9 pm. Many Cretans will eat their main meal in the middle of the day and have something lighter or a mix of mezedes in the evening.
Typical dishes you'll find in Cretan cuisine:
- Appetizers and little bites called mezedes are a big deal in Crete, so look out for dips like tzatíki, fried squid, and stuffed vine leaves
- Mezze plates of mixed snacks are served with a drink as drinking without eating is not something you'll find Cretans doing
- Dakos are a traditional Cretan mezze food – a small bread topped with tomatoes and olives, the bread is also used in Cretan salad
- In the summer, fried snails or Choclioi are a popular dish all over the island
- Fresh seafood is in abundance in Crete, and seafood dishes are usually grilled or fried with mullet, mackerel, bream, and swordfish, the most common fish
- Soupia is a traditional Cretan seafood dish that contains cuttlefish, rich and spinach
- Shrimp in cheese sauce
- Meat is not so common, but Greek food like gyros and soublàki are also popular in Crete
- Baked lamb is a popular dish for special occasions
- Mousaka is another lamb meat dish, prepared with layers of eggplant in a tomato sauce
- Stews of meat in a tomato-based sauce and lots of herbs is a traditional Cretan dish that is served in clay pots
- Slow-cooked Cretan lamb or wild goat is another very traditional Cretan dish called Tsigariastó For vegetarians, stuffed peppers and tomatoes are one of the most popular Cretan dishes
- Anthi are zucchini flowers stuffed with rice, herbs and live oil
- Wild greens are called Horta and taste delicious served with lemon juice and a drizzle of local extra virgin olive oil
- Cretan local cheese is made with cow, goat, or sheep milk or a combination of two milks
- Feta cheese is the most well-known Greek cheese, it's a soft cheese used in Greek salad and eaten across Crete
- Graviera is the most known Cretan cheese, it's a hard cheese made from sheep and goat milk
- Stàka cheese is another soft cheese made from goat milk
- Both sweet and savory pies are popular in Crete with traditional options such as spinach and cheese pie
- Boureki is a must try! It's a savory pie made with zucchini and potatoes.
- Galaktoboúreko is a sweet pie made with cream and semolina
- Local olive oil is used in copious amounts in Cretan cooking
- Don't forget where all that oil comes from – local kalamata olives are delicious
- Fennel is another ubiquitous ingredient in Cretan cooking, you'll find it in meat or fish dishes or in savory pies
- Many Cretan deserts make use of the delicious Cretan honey produced on the island
- Try bougatsa which is a custard pastry made with a local soft, sweet cheese
- Spoon sweets are candid fruit that you eat with a spoon
Not only is the food in Crete delicious, but the traditions around food on the island are also rich and full of stories. You'll find Cretan people to be some of the most welcoming and hospitable people in the world, especially when it comes to sharing their local delicacies.
Read more fun facts about Greece here.
Our Chania food tour
Our food tour on Crete in Greece took place in the old city of Chania, located 140 km to the west of Heraklion. We met our local guide George at the Church of Trimartyri, the cathedral of Chania, where he told us a bit about the Cretan diet and the places we'd be visiting in the following hours.
Here's a run down of all the things we ate while on the food tour in Chania.
Coffee, tea and pastries
George first took us to a local coffee and tea store where we could smell some coffee varieties. Special about this shop was that they have a traditional Greek coffee processor that they still use.
After that, we moved a little further down the road, to bistro Kronos. There the coffee drinkers among us got the chance to taste some real Greek coffee. Those who didn't drink coffee, like me, got a cup of delicious Mountain Tea.
Although the tea was good, my attention soon went to the cupboards of Greek pastries they'd put in front of us. Cookies with almond and loukoumades, fried balls a bit smaller than a ping-pong ball and filled with hot, running honey. Those were amazing. When you put them in your mouth they were just a fried little ball, but when you bit them the honey came flooding out over your tongue.
We were all quite comfortable around our coffee, tea and pastries, but George urged us to get going as there was still a lot to see.
Traditional coffee processing and pastries shop.
45 Mousouron Street, Chania
Pastry shop and bistro.
23 Mousouron Street, Chania.
From the bistro, we headed towards the marketplace. This kind of made me think of some of the markets in London, or La Boquería in Barcelona. The municipal market in Chania is a market hall with various stores and places where you can grab a bite.
Our first stop was at Cretan Nature, a shop selling traditional Cretan products and biological products. Think herbs and healthy biscuits.
In the store, something brown caught my attention. It looked like chocolate but was called “carob”. I asked the owner of the store and he told me carob is known in Greece as “chocolate for poor people”.
The carob plant grows natively in the Mediterranean and Middle East, is grown ornamental and for its edible fruit pods. The plant holds beans with seeds that weigh about the same, which is why those seeds are used to serve as a measurement for weight. It is even believed that the word “carat”, which refers to the unit of mass for gemstones and pearls and the unit of purity for gold, probably comes from the word “carob”.
The things we learn when traveling.
Another thing that got my attention at Cretan Nature were bags of Mountain Tea. I'd just tried this tea for the first time at the bistro we went to and decided to buy a bag to take home with me.
Traditional Cretan products and biological products.
Municipal Market, n° 64-66.
When we left Cretan Nature, George took us for our second portion of pastries that day. First he introduced us to rusk. Rusk is bread that is baked twice to conserve it better, in Greek it is known as paximadi. There are different kinds of rusk like there are different kinds of bread and you can eat rusk dry or with some water or olive oil to make it softer.
After the rusk it was time for kalitsounia, typical Greek cheese pies that can be either sweet or salty.
Both variations tasted good, but I have to say that by that time I was starting to get a little full from mixing so many different foods.
Municipal Market, n° 2
Oh I love cheese. I used to be a real fan of those super soft, super creamy running cheese, but lately I've learned to appreciate older cheeses with a stronger taste as well. So when George took us to a cheese store next, I didn't complain.
Mohlakis is a family business that produces its own fresh cheese and they seem to be good at it, because when we were there the owner was helping one customer after the other.
We got to taste two different kinds of cheeses. One was Graviera, the Creta, Gruyère, but I'm afraid I forgot the name of the second one. I do remember that I liked it, though!
Traditional Cretan Cheese
Municipal Market n° 54
Let there be olive oil
While all the stores we'd visited so far had been stores where locals went to buy their products as well, The Olive Shop, located by the old city walls, wasn't.
Well, George told us that no Cretan would ever by olives or olive oil from a store as all Cretans have their own olive trees, or they have family who have their own olive trees. Cretans harvest their own olives and make their own olive oil, thus the olives and Cretan virgin olive oil you can find around the island are only there for the tourists to buy. Cretan cuisine is very dependant on good quality olive oil!
That's not necessarily a bad thing, as The Olive Shop had a much larger collection of olive oils than you can find in most stores in Belgium (I can't speak for the rest of Europe).
We got to taste some of the varieties, but what I found weird is that we had to taste the olive oil straight from a spoon and not on a piece of rusk or bread as I thought we would.
Now I like olive oil, but to eat it pure from a spoon… not so much.
Luckily there were raisins and little crackers to eat in between spoons, but it's clear they weren't meant to be had with the olive oil.
The Olive Shop
Olive products: oil, pastes, cosmetics and olive wood objects.
36 Portou Street, Chania.
Something a little stronger
The last stop of our tour was at a Cretan wine store for some Greek wine tasting. This might come as a shock to some of you, but I don't drink wine. Luckily the store owner had something else for us to try as well: submarines!
Submarines, you ask?
Yes. The concept of a submarine is this: you take a scoop out of a jar with a specific kind of sweet and than put the spoon with the sweet in a glass of water so that the sweet can soften. After a minute or two you take the spoon out and lick the sweet off of it. When finished, you drink the glass of water which now also has a sweet taste.
How was it? Well, very sweet, but good for one spoon.
Wine and traditional products store
70 Daskalogiani Street, Chania
Our Chania food tour: the verdict
This was the first food tour I ever went on, so I don't have anything to compare it to. Overall it was a fun experience. Our guide was knowledgeable and answered questions with pleasure. The food we had was good and I didn't feel completely stuffed when the tour was over, which is a plus as well.
One little point of critique concerns the timing. Maybe this is a southern thing, but our three-hour tour lasted for over four hours. I feel like they may have wanted to cram too many stops into the, as we were urged to move on several times. George didn't seem to mind guiding us for longer, but I have to say that after three hours I was ready to do some exploring on my own.
One other thing is that I felt the tour was more about aperitivos and desserts than the whole range of Cretan cuisine. I think it would have been nice if we had had one sit-down small meal. That didn't have to take long and it didn't have to be a real meal, but just one small plate of something that would have been a typical Greek lunch or dinner dish.
What I liked best? Definitely the Mountain Tea and pastries at the Kronos bistro!
Other Chania tours and tours in Crete
Unfortunately, the tour I went on is not being run anymore (which is why I felt ok mentioning the places we visited – but do check as they might have closed in the meantime) but I've looked into some other options for you.
This Food Odessey is a 4-hour historical and culinary walking tour around Chania led by a local.
If you prefer something a bit more elaborate (and stronger), have a look at this full-day olive oil and wine tasting 4WD safari.
Want to get stuck in to making some Cretan food specialities yourself? Try out a cooking class in Crete.
Lastly, this full-day wine and olive day tour takes you to family wineries and an olive oil factory.
Where to stay in Chania
We stayed at a rental house a little outside of Chania. If you'd also like to rent a house or stay in an apartment, I would recommend checking airbnb.
If you prefer staying at a hotel, I've made a selection catering to different budgets and styles below. All of these hotels get a review score of more than 9/10 and offer free WiFi.
Budget option: Kedrissos Hotel
Kedrissos Hotel lies right outside the center of Chania, just a 6-minute walk from the beach. The bus stop to go to Chania lies right across the street from the hotel bus you can also walk there. Kedrissos features a large swimming pool with kids section, an on-site restaurant, and a gym.
Want to stay at Kedrissos hotel? Check here for more reviews, prices, and availability.
Boutique option: Fatma Boutique Hotel
Fatma Boutique Hotel lies in the heart of Chania Old Town, in the Venetian Harbor. The beach is just a 10-minute walk away.
All rooms feature a flat-screen tv, an espresso maker, air-conditioning, tea and coffee amenities as well as a seating area.
Guests can enjoy a complimentary certified Greek breakfast in the mornings and enjoy drinks at the on-site bar or on the sun terrace.
Want to stay at Fatma Boutique Hotel? Check here for more reviews, prices, and availability.
Luxury option: Ambassador Residence Boutique Hotel
The 5-star Ambassador Residence Boutique Hotel lies in Chania's Venetian Harbor, an 18-minute walk from the beach. This restored house from the 1890s offers air-conditioned rooms and suites with seating areas, flat-screen tv, tea and coffee amenities, and a mini-bar. Most rooms have a view of the harbor and the sea while others feature a spa bath and a balcony.
Guests love how stylish this hotel is and the breakfast is highly recommended.
Want to stay at the Ambassador Residence Boutique Hotel? Check here for more reviews, prices, and availability.
How to get to Crete
We flew to Heraklion International Airport and then had a rental car to explore the island.
Check Skyscanner for the best flight options.
And if you also want to rent a car, Rentalcars.com compares options and prices across hundreds of providers so you always get the best deal.
PIN FOR LATER
The Chania Food Tour was offered to our group by Viator. Please know that I will always write honestly about comped experiences like this Cretan food tour.