When you arrive in Crete you will find more than the regular gyros and souvlaki to tempt your taste buds! Renowned both in Greece and internationally as one of the healthiest diets in the world, the foundation of their cuisine lies in the quality and freshness of the ingredients, seasonal greens and copious amounts of olive oil!
We spent two weeks in the town of Rethymno relaxing on the beach, driving through impressive mountainscapes and being introduced to the island’s rich food culture along the way.
We stayed in Villa Giorgio, a 5-minute drive from town, hosted by the wonderful Anastasia, Mike and their son Giorgio. Our culinary journey began when Anastasia was kind enough to make us dinner since our late Sunday arrival meant most stores and restaurants would be closed. We enjoyed delicious stuffed vegetables and homemade cheese along with wine made from their very own grapes.
Mike’s mom lives next door and would bring us fresh eggs, homemade yogurts and cheeses and the sweetest pomagranates I’ve ever had! There’s nothing like them in North America, and I had them with Cretan honey and homemade yogurt for breakfast in the morning.
Sunday Lunch and Antikristo
High in the mountains shepherds would prepare lamb in the traditional method called Antikristo, which translates to “across the fire”. This method needs just salt and slow cooking over an open fire to create the tender meat and crispy skin. The beauty of this method was that the meat required minimal attention while the shepherds tended to their flock.
Mike and Anastasia invited us to join them for Sunday lunch at Taverna Drymos that specializes in Antikristo. We had a delicious feast of lamb, pork, chicken, salads, rice, desserts and fresh fruits. The large open-air restaurant was full of Greek families who come every Sunday to enjoy this traditional meal. It was a lovely afternoon spent with new friends.
Cooking Class at Avli Restaurant
In the centre of the Old Town is Avli Restaurant that offers Cretan cooking classes. We learned about the history or Cretan cuisine, the ingredients and how they are produced along with new cooking techniques to try at home!
First we started with salads where the focus was on fresh ingredients. There were no heavy dressings, just salt, balsamic vinegar and olive oil! Rusks and day old bread finds its way into the dishes as a great way to use up food in the home and make them more filling.
Stuffed vegetables were next, and with the addition of rice you have a hearty side dish to go with the rest of your meal. The rice was mixed with the flesh of our cored veggies to ensure nothing is wasted and added so much flavour to the dish.
Finally, we ended with braised goat with petimezi, a syrup made from the pressed grapes and skins after wine production. The thick, sweet syrup paired well with the wine during braising and created a rich hearty sauce. Again, nothing else but a healthy dose of salt, thyme and olive oil and two hours of braising. Simple and so delicious
In true Cretan tradition, each meal we had out ended with a shot of raki, the potent brandy made from fermented grape skins after winemaking. We ended our stay in Rethymno with an invitation from Anastasia and Mike to join them in making the local spirit. We went for an hour drive into the mountains to the village of Meronas where Mike’s father rents time with the local distillery to make the raki with his family.
Raki is the grape based brandy made from distilling pomace – the pieces of grapes, stems and seeds left over from the pressing during winemaking. The pomace is left to ferment in barrels for 6 weeks and then distilled. The alcohol content can vary between 45-65%! Thang got to help pour the pomace into the kanazi and have the first taste! It’s quite strong at the beginning and not for the faint of heart!
This was a family affair and we were treated to another delicious lunch of grilled meats, salads and fruits made by all the ladies in the family.
Crete really surpised us with the variety in their local cuisine. It’s not the typical Greek food that we’ve had at home and we enjoyed learning so much about how food is tied to their family traditions and culture. We had such a great time here, and we look forward to visiting again! Yamas!