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If you are typical of visitors to Crete, you will soon fall in love with the food, and it’s hard to have a bad meal on the island. The food is simple and is often made the way it has been for centuries. It makes use of fresh, local ingredients, herbs and spices, and olive oil. If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, you will find that many dishes are available to you on Crete. This section is designed to help you maximize the experience of eating on Crete and to help you navigate the menu so you can select dishes you are sure to enjoy.

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Octopus Drying. Lourakis, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Customs

You will find three major kinds of eating establishments on Crete. There are high-end restaurants where chefs might experiment with traditional Greek foods or serve foods from other regions and countries such as Asia or Mexico. Most common, however, are the tavernas, which are not unlike cafes in the United States or Europe that serve simple but typically excellent Greek food. A third type of restaurant is the kafeneio, a combination coffeehouse and pub that specializes in drinks more than in food. The kafeneio used to be a place only for men, and it still is in some villages, but women are generally able to frequent these eateries now. 

Greeks eat lunch and dinner much later than Americans or many other Europeans do. Lunch is usually at 1:00 or 2:00, and dinner often starts at 8:00 or 9:00. But don’t worry: If you are hungry at 6:00 or 7:00, most eateries will be happy to serve you.

You might find yourself frustrated at a Greek taverna as you wait for the check to arrive, thinking that your waiter is providing bad service and is not being attentive to your needs. But Greeks like to linger over a meal, and most restaurants encourage diners to linger. As a result, they don’t rush you by bringing you the check. This means you’ll often have to ask your server for the check, which you can do by writing in the air. Or you can also learn the Greek phrase for “the check, please,” which is quite a mouthful: “Το λογαριασμό, παρακαλώ,” which is pronounced this way: “to lo gar i as MΟ, pa ra ka LO.”

Tipping used to be minimal on Crete, but in recent years, the expectation is that some tipping will be done and in greater amounts—typically between 5 and 10%. If your bill is €38, for example, you might leave  €40, giving a tip of €2.

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Lamb Roasting. Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Food Options

The menus of the tavernas in and around Gavalochori are filled with culinary delights, and you will enjoy sampling the great variety of dishes they offer. This section by no means covers all of the dishes common on Crete, but it does include items that are commonly found on the menus of most eating establishments here. When your food arrives, you can salute your dining companions with “Καλή όρεξη,” which is pronounced “ka LEE O rex i” and means “Have a nice appetite!” or, as we would simply translate it in English, “Enjoy your meal.”

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Baklava. CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Baklava

Μπακλαβάς

Baklava is a layered dessert made of filo pastry, chopped nuts (typically walnuts or pistachios), and sweetened with honey. It is supposed to be made with 33 filo layers, referring to the years of Jesus’s life.

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Beetroot Salad. Jen Arrr, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Beetroot Salad

Παντζαροσαλάτα

Beetroot salad is a salad made of boiled or steamed beets, yogurt, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and walnuts.

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Boureki. Bletsas.gr

Boureki

Μπουρέκι

Boureki is a hot layered casserole dish made of zucchini, potatoes, onions, mizythra cheese, and a hint of mint. Its base and top layer are made of filo dough. 

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Briam. Gaiabio.gr

Briam

Μπριάμ

Briam is a dish of mixed vegetables baked in the oven. It typically contains tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, onions, and carrots infused with olive oil and garlic.

Plat_de_Dakos_en_Crète
Dakos. Benoît Prieur, CC0, Wikimedia Commons

Dakos

Ντάκος

Dakos refers to a dish where a rusk (a slice of hard bread) is topped with olive oil, chopped tomatoes, cheese, a pinch of oregano, and maybe some olives. Rusks are hard and can be difficult to eat, but in this case, the juices from the tomatoes and the olive oil do the softening up of the rusk and make it edible.

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Fava. Klearchos Kapoutsis, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Fava

Φάβα

Fava is a dip (often spread on bread) that is made not from fava beans, as the name suggests, but from yellow split peas. The peas are mashed and mixed with onion, garlic, olive oil, lemon, and sometimes various herbs.

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Fish. Norio Nakayama, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Fish

Ψάρι

Although Crete is an island, the food featured in the tavernas in and around Gavalochori tends to focus on meat rather than fish. A good description of the many varieties of fish you are likely to encounter on Crete is available here.

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Gemista. I, Badseed, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Gemista

Γεμιστά

Gemista is a hot vegetarian dish involving stuffed vegetables. When you order gemista, you’ll typically get one baked tomato and one green pepper stuffed with a filling of rice, onions, garlic, olive oil, dill, and parsley.

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Giant Beans. Hevesli, Wikimedia Commons

Giant Beans

Γίγαντες

These giant beans are made from large white beans, not the lima beans that you might be used to in other parts of Europe or the United States. They typically are cooked in a tomato sauce with garlic and olive oil and served warm.

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Greek Salad. Jpatokal, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Greek Salad

Χωριάτικη Σαλάτα

This is the salad you will find on virtually every menu on Crete. It is made of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, onions, and olives and is topped with a slab of feta cheese and a generous sprinkling of oregano.

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Gyros. Kurt Kaiser, CC0, Wikimedia Commons

Gyros

Γύρος

Gyros is a dish made from thinly sliced meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie. The Greek word gyros means “turn,” and its name comes from the fact that the meat is put on a metal stick, placed vertically on the special “gyros” grill, and turned on its axis so that it will grill evenly. It is typically served wrapped in a round slice of pita, along with tomatoes, onions, french fries, and tzatziki A gyros is typically made with pork but also can be made with chicken.

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Horta. Sotiria Simota, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Horta

Χόρτα

Horta is a dish made of steamed wild greens. On Crete, 25 to 30 different kinds of plants, including black mustard leaves, dandelions, sorrel, and kale, can be used for horta, but the variety you will often see in tavernas in and around Gavalochori when you order horta is Amaranth. Horta is served warm with lemon juice and olive oil.

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Imam Baildi. Caruso.gr

Imam Baldi

Ιμάμ Μπαϊλντί

This is an eggplant stuffed with a filling of tomatoes, garlic, onions, herbs, and flour. Both the eggplant and the filling are fried for a short time, after which the eggplant is stuffed and baked.

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Moussaka. Robert Kindermann, CC BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons

Moussaka

Μουσακάς

Moussaka is a dish not unlike lasagna that involves several different layers—eggplant, minced meat with onions, and potatoes. The top layer is made from béchamel sauce, which combines flour, milk, butter, and eggs.

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Pastitsio. am Bailey, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Pastitsio

Παστίτσιο

A good way to think of pastitsio is that it is the Cretan version of mac and cheese. Its main ingredient is a kind of pasta that is a cross between macaroni and penne. It has separate layers of minced beef, onions, and cheese, and its top layer is made of béchamel sauce, which combines flour, milk, butter, and eggs.

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Pie. C messier, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Pies

Πίτες

The pies you will find on Crete are not the pies with apple or berry fillings and crusts that you might be familiar with from other countries. They are filo pastries filled with savory items—typically cheese (for tiropita  or a “cheese pie”) or spinach (for spanakopita or a “spinach pie”). Now and again, you’ll run into a restaurant or pastry shop that sells pies with other kinds of stuffings, too, such as leek, cream, or zucchini.

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Cretan Rusks. Greekbreakfast.gr

Rusks

Παξιμάδια

A rusk is a hard bread made of barley, wheat, rye, carob and/or chickpea flour that can assume a variety of forms, including oblong slices, round slices, and bite-sized croutons. Rusks are literally twice-baked bread. The bread is leavened and baked once for the initial loaf and then sliced and baked again at a low temperature for several hours until all of the moisture has evaporated and the slices have hardened. Rusks were created to keep bread without spoiling, giving those who were away from home for extended periods of time like sailors and shepherds something to eat that was both tasty and nutritious. The secret to eating rusks safely is to soften them by briefly dipping them in water or pouring olive oil on them until they soften up. 

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Saganaki. Tammy Green, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Saganaki

Σαγανάκι

Saganaki is a grilled or fried breaded cheese. The cheese used on Crete is typically feta, so it doesn’t completely melt like many cheeses would. The cheese is served hot with a slice of lemon that should be sprinkled liberally over the cheese.

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Sfakiani Pita. Greekgastronomyguide.gr

Sfakian Pie

Σφακιανή Πίτα

Sfakian pies originated in the Sfakia area on the south coast of Crete. They look like a tortilla or a crepe and are stuffed with soft, creamy mizythra cheese. A daub of honey on top adds the perfect sweetness to the salty creation.

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Souvlaki. Andrew Davidoff, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Souvlaki

Σουβλάκι

A Greek fast food, souvlaki consists of pieces of meat typically grilled on a skewer. The meat is typically pork, but it also could be chicken, lamb, or beef. 

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Stifado. KF, Wikimedia Commons

Stifado

Στιφάδο

Stifado is a stew made of meat, onion, garlic, and other spices according to the chef’s preference—cinnamon, oregano, parsley, cloves, and chili pepper, for example. It most commonly includes cubed beef, but pork, lamb, and rabbit can be used to make stifado as well.

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Stuffed Courgette Blossoms. Saintfevrier, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Stuffed Courgette Blossoms

Γεμιστοί Kολοκυθοανθοί

You will only encounter this dish in the spring and early summer on Crete when the zucchini plants are flowering. Zucchini flowers are stuffed with a mixture of rice, tomatoes, olive oil, parsley, dill, and onion. Not only is this dish available only for a short time each year, but the flowers can only be harvested in the early morning because they close up for the day in the midmorning. 

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Tzatziki. Benoît Prieur, CC0, Wikimedia Commons

Tzatziki

Τζατζίκι

A cold dip made from yogurt, garlic, cucumbers, and olive oil, this dish can be a starter to eat with bread, a kind of salad, or a sauce to accompany meat dishes.

Drink Options

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Beer. Roberto Strauss, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Beer

Μπύρα

The standard commercial beers that you are likely to find in Greece and on Crete are Mythos, Alpha, and Fix, and they are quite fine as beers go. But microbreweries are beginning to blossom on Crete, and in and around Gavalochori, you are likely to have the option of ordering Charma (Χάρμα) beer, made by the Cretan Brewery.

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Wine. Signe Karin, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Wine

Κρασί

Many wines are produced on Crete, and you find all sorts of varieties and brands to try in markets and wine shops. When you are ordering wine in a taverna, though, you are likely to have four choices: (1) You might be able to order a bottle or a glass of wine by type and country of origin, but this won’t be an option in smaller tavernas, (2) You can order the house red or the house white, and you will probably be given boxed red or white wines, which are perfectly good quaffing wines, (3) You can order the “village wine,” which will be wine made by local villagers and is an acquired taste, especially if you are used to drinking more standard types of wine, and (4) In some eating establishments, you will be able to order retsina, a dry white wine with a distinctive pine and resin flavor that people usually either love or hate. It is made using the same winemaking techniques of white wine except that small pieces of Aleppo pine resin are added to the grape must during fermentation. 

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Raki. C messier, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Raki

Ρακή

 A clear alcoholic drink with an alcohol content of 40–45%, raki is typically served in very small glasses at the end of lunch or dinner in eating establishments on Crete. It is made after the grape harvest, in late October or November, using the press residue or the grape marc—the skin and seeds left over from pressing the grapes into wine. You might hear raki called tsikoudia (tσικουδιά) because that is the word for the grape marc from which raki is made.

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Mountain Tea. Deyan Vasilev, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Mountain Tea

Τσάι του βουνού

Also called malotira (μαλοτήρα), mountain tea has an aromatic, slightly floral and earthy taste and a golden color. It is made of the herb malotira (μαλοτήρα). You will see bags of these dried herbs for sale at markets in and around Gavalochori. Malotira is a mossy, bushy, and brushwood-like plant that grows in mountain areas and is especially abundant in the White Mountains of Western Crete. It is collected during its blooming time in July, and every part of the plant is used for the tea. Its medicinal properties are numerous—it is anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidant and is used to prevent colds and flu and to aid digestion. 

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