Born out of centuries-old traditions, Cretan cuisine is simple and delicious. From fresh salads and buttery pastries to potent spirits and bold red wines, the island's most popular foods and drinks are products of Crete's sunny climate and vibrant culinary heritage. Whether you're grabbing a snack from a bakery or sitting down for a gourmet meal, the emphasis is always on freshness and quality. Read on to learn more about the delicacies and dishes you won't want to miss on a visit to Crete.


Bougatsa fresh out of the oven

A local classic in the city of Chania, bougatsa is an iconic breakfast treat made with custard, vanilla, and phyllo pastry. Go early in the morning and eat a fresh, wonderfully crunchy piece of bougatsa, preferably washed down with a cup of coffee. The best version is from Lordanis, a bakery in Chania that has been making the specialty for nearly a century.


A traditional bakery on the island of Crete

Similar to an empanada, the kalitsounia is a cheese-filled hand pie typically eaten around Easter. These days, you can find them throughout the year at many traditional bakeries. The crust is soft and slightly crispy on the outside, while the cream filling is made from soft mizithra (goat or sheep's cheese). The hand pie can be savory, with herbs and wild greens, or slightly sweet and served as a dessert.  


Dakos, a traditional Cretan salad

Dakos is a light yet filling salad made with fresh tomato, creamy mizithra cheese, and a pinch of salt, pepper, and oregano, all served on twice-baked bread that's been soaked in olive oil. You can find the salad virtually anywhere on the island of Crete.  

Read more about the Top Culinary Experiences in Greece or get an overview of the Best Things to Do on Crete.

Cretan cheeses

Cheeses for sale in Heraklion, Crete

Since there are very few cows on Crete, most of the cheese on the island is made from sheep or goat's milk. The typical cheeses you will find are:

  • Mizithra, a fresh cheese made with milk and whey from sheep or goats. It's usually served on top of salads or used in place of butter. It's delicious on its own or with a touch of honey.
  • Anthotiros, a sheep and goat cheese that is mild and soft. This cheese is often sprinkled on pasta dishes.
  • Graviera, a classic hard cheese that's usually made with sheep's milk. It's rich, with a slightly nutty flavor. This cheese can be eaten alone or with bread and honey. 

Try these different types of cheeses, and learn how they're made, on a Cretan Villages Food and Culture Tour.

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Carob bread

A basket with carob and sourdough bread

Carob is a tree that grows in abundance on Crete. The tree's seeds are finely ground to create a flour that is slightly sweet and the color of cocoa. This flour has great nutritional value — carob has more calcium than milk. It's used to make bread that has a mild chocolate flavor, so it's usually served at breakfast. Carob is also used in cookies and sweets you'll find all over Crete.


Two kinds of Xinohondros (Photo courtesy of Badseed from Wikipedia)

Xinohondros is best defined as fermented cracked wheat with goat's milk. It's an ancient food — not one that you will find easily in restaurants in Crete — that is typically made in the villages during the summer months. Once the ingredients are mixed together, the mixture is broken down into small pieces and dried in the sun. Xinohondros is typically cooked into soups and stews with meat and vegetables.  

Fried Snails 

Fried snails with olive oil and rosemary

In the fragrant Cretan dish called chochlioi boubouristi, snails are battered with flour and fried in olive oil, then doused with wine vinegar and topped with rosemary. This traditional Cretan recipe has spread to many other parts of Greece as well. To Dichalo, a restaurant near Chania, is a great place to try it.


Antikristo cooking over an open fire

The name antikristo refers to a traditional way of cooking meat. Traditionally, locals would quickly set up a fire and cook lamb in the field with just a bit of salt. The result is juicy, with an extra crispy skin from the heat of the fire. Try the restaurant To Antikristo for a wonderful version of this roasted specialty.


Locally produced honey raki, also known as tsikoudia

On Crete, raki is a traditional spirit served when you sit down for a meal, typically with a selection of savory snacks and olives. Drunk from a shot glass, it's often served again at the end of the meal.

Raki was historically made after the grape harvest, with villagers around Crete carefully tending open fires under copper stills. Many villagers still make their own raki. There are also now a number of distilleries making it, too, experimenting with different flavors. Look for raki made with thyme and honey: it's worth seeking out. 

Cretan Wines

Mandilari wines (image courtesy of Lyrarakis winery)

Cretan wines are part of a long-standing tradition on the island of Grete. Dating back to the Minoan civilization, wines have been produced here for more than 4,000 years. There are 11 distinctive local grape varieties. The popular grapes used in white wine include Vidiano and Vilano grapes. Two popular red varieties include Kotsifali and Mandilari: both of these hearty wines offer an authentic taste of the Greek island. 

Taste these local wines and more with a Winery Visit & Tasting near Heraklion.

Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Sep 8, 2021