Crete is a fascinating island and the largest in Greece, with rugged, hilly landscape and a strong cultural identity. Crete has a rich and fertile environment, which brings in huge harvests of organic produce all the year round. The rich soil gives a distinct flavour to the produce grown and has blessed Crete with a distinct regional cuisine of natural ingredients and flavours, famous both within Greece and abroad. Cretan meals are simple and distinguished by seasonal and local ingredients, among which include mountain herbs and vegetables, wild greens, rare cheeses, fresh fish, meat, fruit and the legendary Cretan olive oil and wine. Read on to discover more about one of the world’s healthiest diets and the local cuisine in Rethymnon, Crete.
Rethymnon is Crete’s third biggest city, with many historical sites and landmarks. You can see the Fortezza, a Venetian fortress, in its entire glorious splendour from everywhere in Rethymnon when you look up. The Venetian waterfront is a magical sight, with its lovely quayside flanked with colourful old homes and an antique lighthouse. The old district of the town is a labyrinth of small, bustling lanes lined with charming Venetian style homes with arched entrances and tall wooden balconies. Food is a very important part of Cretan culture and Rethymnon has a huge range of eateries that serve up the finest of Cretan cuisine. With so much to see and do in Rethymnon, visitors will want to take a break and refuel with the delicious food and drink these establishments have to offer.
Ouzeries and Mezedopoleios
Heading toward the winding lanes in the old quarter of the town, you will find multiple Ouzeries and Mezedopoleios, for a peaceful, genuine gastronomic experience. These venues are the Greek versions of tapas bars in Spain, where you may order an assortment of beautiful mezedes to go with ouzo, house wine, or raki, a deliciously potent Cretan drink. You can have vegetarian mezedes such as Dolmadakia which are vine leaves stuffed with rice and mountain herbs. Saganaki is fried cheese made with local Cretan kefalotiri, graviera and kasseri cheeses. Stuffed tomatoes and peppers with rice are known as Gemista and Tzatziki is a popular Greek yoghurt dip made with garlic and cucumber. Mezedes for the carnivores among you will enjoy smoked meats like Apaki made with lean pork, organic Cretan Loukanika, sausages, and Keftedes, baked meatballs infused with every herb under the Cretan sun. Fish lovers can enjoy small dishes of grilled shrimp, sun dried octopus and lightly battered squid with a squeeze of lemon juice. At night, Ouzeries and Mezedopoleios host live Cretan music, creating a wonderful, magical atmosphere.
Fish is eaten 1-2 times a week by the average Cretan, with the Cretan and Libyan seas providing a wide variety of incredibly fresh fish and seafood. Many Psarotavernas, or fish taverns, can be located on the lively waterfront of Rethymnon. They provide everything from small whitebait to large sea bass, as well as shrimp, octopus, squid, and lesser-known specialties like sword fish and sea urchins. In these restaurants, the fish is generally priced according to its weight. The fish is often cooked whole and served with Ladolemono, a zesty lemon and oil condiment. Octopus may be grilled or cooked in wine, while Marides, little white bait fish, are fried and served golden and crisp. What better way to spend an evening than eating sea bream, grey mullet, sardines, or anchovies on Rethymno’s waterfront with the city night lights shimmering over the water in front of you? All with a cool glass of misty Cretan ouzo in hand.
Rethymnon’s Psitesteatoreons, or grill restaurants, are a meat eater’s dream. The customary menu at these establishments includes grilled chicken, lamb, and pork served with a Choriatiki salad, a traditional Greek salad with feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives, and Patates Tiganites, french fries. These meat specialist establishments have turned the Souvlaki, meat on skewers, and Gyros Souvlaki, doner kebab, from street food into a meaty delicacy. Kokoretsi, a mixture of liver and offal wrapped in intestines and grilled, and sheep’s head, are two less familiar delicacies to try by the more adventurous visitors! The quality of the meat, the seasoning, marinating and grilling makes the Grill restaurants in Rethymnon worth a visit. Whatever your choice of meat in these restaurants, the smoky aroma of meaty flavours wafting up into the blue Cretan sky is guaranteed to excite your taste buds.
In addition to cuisine prepared to order such as barbecued meats, mezedes and seafood, Cretan tavernas generally provide the entire spectrum of well-known Greek dishes. They have a huge range of Magirefta dishes, slow oven cooked recipes that have been passed down generation to generation. Think of these dishes as Greek Grandma Style home cooking. Among many Magirefta options, Moussakas is an oven dish with layered aubergine, minced meat, and potatoes covered with white sauce. Pastitsio is another delicious baked dish with macaroni and seasoned minced lamb. Guvetsi is a filling dish of baked meat with fresh tomato sauce with Kritharaki, orzo, pearl shaped pasta. Stifadho is a meal of meat, game, or fish cooked in a tomato sauce with onions. Soutzoukakia are meat patties in tomato sauce, and Chochli Boubouristi are fried snails in tomato sauce, enfused with rosemary. These tavernas are authentic and generally showcase the finest of Greek cuisine in a cozy, hospitable and vibrant environment, with Cretan music filling the night air.
Are you a gastronomy enthusiast looking to sample some of the best Cretan cuisine can offer? The huge diversity of eateries in Rethymno, in their unique settings with breath-taking views and outstanding service, will provide you with a flavourful journey of fascinating blends of fresh, local, and organic Cretan ingredients. The region has made a special mark on the island’s gastronomic landscape, and it is one which you absolutely cannot afford to miss out on.