Eating out in Crete is a great experience.
There's a wide variety of places to eat, accommodating a range of tastes and budgets.
This comprehensive Crete food guide explains the different types of establishment you can eat in, ranging from the basic kafeneions to the plusher and posher estiatorios.
Whether you want authentic Cretan Diet dishes, Greek mezes, fast food, or an authentic fish taverna, this guide is for you.
There are many different names for places to eat in Crete, depending on what they serve and their main dishes.
Small traditional bars where you mainly go to buy drinks will also provide or sell food too.
Kafeneions are mostly frequented by men who go there to while away the morning and early afternoon drinking coffee normally.
Greek coffee is not like Nescafe, but is boiled in a special pot on a hot stove until the mixture of coffee grains, water and (sometimes) sugar is brought to a frothing boil. This is then poured out into small espresso style cups and allowed to settle (otherwise you get a mouthful of fine coffee grains - a glass of water is provided in case of accidents due to premature consumption).
As the afternoon draws on the Cretan male will look to raki, ouzo, or possibly beer, to help further stimulate the conversation, or add some spark to the backgammon contest.
It is tradition to serve small place or mezedes with alcohol. This has translated to providing nuts and crisps in the bars and tourist spots.
In some more tradition drinking establishments, away from the tourist hotspots, the small dishes or mezedes provided can almost comprise a meal in themselves! We've had small dishes of casseroled chicken, country sausage, salad plates of tomato, cucumber and pickled cabbage, rusk (twice baked bread - hard!), snails, and plates of fruit.
All this gets given to you free with any alcohol. We have often ended up buying a white wine and carafe of raki for about €3.50 - and getting what amounts to a free meal with it too!
One time we were lucky enough to be present at one particular kafeneion when a local farmer brought in some mushrooms. The owner promptly cooked them and little plates of freshly sautéed mushrooms were passed out to all the people present! We've never tasted mushrooms as delicious as those.
Some small kafeneions or ouzeries will also advertise themselves as Mezedhopolio. This comes from the word mezes or mezedhes which is a meal of different small dishes, similar to tapas in Spain.
Here you can buy small dishes of traditional Cretan and Greek cuisine to go with your ouzo, raki or any other drink you want.
The Crete taverna is the traditional eating place for Cretans and tourists alike and in the past was an informal type of restaurant only open in the evenings.
Now the name applies to almost all restaurants and most are open all day (especially during the tourist season).
Estiatorio was the name given to the more formal restaurant, although the distinction between taverna and estiatorio is now blurred somewhat, although you will still see both names (in Greek!).
All the traditional Greek and Cretan dishes will be served here, including:
You'll find some Cretan specialities too, including delicious pies made with lamb, some cheese ones, and also chicken versions. The Sfakia Pie is traditionally a soft cheese pie served with honey. Try the smoked pork if you see it on the menu. Local salads (as opposed to "Greek") are worth trying too, but make sure you have room because they can be quite substantial.
Snails and rabbit are very popular here as well.
From the words psari (meaning fish) and taverna, you get psarotaverna.
Fish restaurants abound in Crete offering fresh fish caught the very same day and often just off the beach where the restaurant sits.
If you're up early enough you might catch the local fishermen coming ashore at the nearby harbour. Later you'll see them driving round the town with their catch on the back of their trucks, calling off at restaurants as they go.
Obviously, fish will be a speciality here, but don't expect it to be cheap. Fish is a bit of a luxury as fishing stocks are reduced and a good catch harder to find throughout the Mediterranean.
Vegetarians beware! The Psistaria is another variation on the regular café or restaurant and is somewhere that specialises in grilled meats.
Often much less formal and than a traditional taverna or restaurant, here you can get grilled chicken, lamb and pork - usually cooked over hot coals.
Traditional souvlaki is a must try in Crete (not suitable for vegetarians) with chicken, pork and mixed varieties available.
Other dishes are available too including the full range of salads.
You won't find many MacDonald's in Crete. We've seen a couple of signs, but never stumbled on the outlet, and we suspect that they didn't last long and had to close. We know of one in Malia on the eastern side of the Island, but even though there's a sign in Rethymnon - we've never seen it.
We probably suspect that tourists are on the whole not looking for a MacDonald's style of cuisine on holiday, and the Greeks have their own version: Goodys.
Of course, in the tourist hotspots of Crete such as Malia, Stalis and Hersonissos in the east of the Island, you will find the largest concentration of "International Cuisine" with Full English (and Irish) breakfasts, Pukka pies, curries, fish and chips, and the rest.
There are some Chinese, Mexican and Indian restaurants too, again mainly in the tourist resorts and the large towns.
Bars in the resorts will do a nice line in snacks based around the burger and the pizza, so if you don't like Greek food, you won't starve.
This means cakes!
It's enough to make you go bananas! Enjoy a coffee and delicious cake in the afternoon at the local zacharoplastio.
Why not! You're on holiday after all!
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