Our adventure with Cretan cuisine starts in the east of the island.
After visiting Spinalonga we take a walk around cosy town called Aghios Nikolaos. Just few meters from our pension there is a nice sea view restaurant, the name of which is Amalthea. Just like the name of a foster-mother of Zeus in Greek mythology.
We have a scan through the menu in front of the entrance and we are quite sceptical. The prices are extremely low, how big portions will be? We compare the menu to those in other restaurants but none of them serves Cretan cuisine and prices are too high for us – budget travellers. Eating in Amalthea is better idea.
Even if we are not going to have a filling meal, we will taste some of Crete and enjoy the view of the sea and hills bathed in pink light at sunset.
‘ How big are the portions?’ I ask the waitress.
‘ In Crete we don’t eat one big meal per person,’ she explains and smiles invitingly. ‘We share a plate with our friends or family. However, it is really filling.’
Encouraged enough, we sit at the table and look at the menu. It was in German and… Russian. ‘Why are we constantly mistaken for Russians?’ I think annoyed and look up for a site with Cretan cuisine. The biggest advantage in ordering something in the language you don’t understand is that you don’t know what to expect. Your mind and taste are opened for new experiences.
For the beginning we order Antipasti – an appetizer composed of many snacks. We have here small slices of smoked beef, something that in German is called Knollengewächse (literally tuber vegetables), Dakos with tomato, Xinomyzithra cheese, stuffed grapevine leaves, pickled olives and yoghurt as a dip. We try everything in turn. Tastes are salty and sour but this is what I love – distinctive flavours that I’ll remember for long.
Tuber vegetables are as salty as olives. I reckon they’re pickled in vinegar and salt but I’m not a chef – I just guess. I have no idea what kind of vagatable are they but their shape resembles small onions. Sofi, the waitress, tells us that they grow only in mountains of Crete.
Dakos is a typical hors d’oeuvre in Crete. It’s a rusk or dry wholemeal bread sprinkled with olive oil, with some tomato’s flesh on and scattered with feta cheese.
But my favourite is Xinomyzithra cheese. Feta is indeed the most well-known cheese of Greece but you have to know that the Greeks have invented so many types of cheese that they’re no worse than the Dutch! The myzithra is creamy cheese made out of goat or sheep milk and whey, that manufactured during the production of other cheeses. It’s served in delicate breadcrumbs and really melts in our mouth!
After that we order stuffed grapevine leaves. Traditionally the filling is courgette flowers but during the off-season courgette is replaced with rice. Yoghurt is served as a dip. It’s a perfect snack for those who prefer mild tastes.
After two small battles of home-made wine we are brave enough to order a popular local dish – snails! ‘If you’re not sure,’ we hear from Sofi ‘don’t look – just eat!’
I look at the bowl uncertainly. Snails, called Boubouristi, are served in some kind of vinegar consommé mixed with white wine and rosemary. I take out from a shell a small piece of meat, close my eyes and… I’m surprised! Meat is delicate – not too hard, not jelly-like – and so tasty that I want some more! The bowl full of delicacies gets empty immediately. Now we are ready for some raki!
I think I’ll never learn which alcohol is typical for Greece and which one for Turkey: raki or ouzo? (The same is with vodka: Polish or Russian?) I used to think that ouzo is Greek and raki is Turkish but a lot of people I’ve met deny it… But who cares now? Let’s just enjoy this night (and have a shot of ouzo after raki)!
There is another mysterious dish in the menu. In German it is called Sepia mit Fenchel. As far as I know Fenchel is a fennel but I have no idea what is Sepia. ‘It’s a kind of a fish but not exactly a fish’ says Sofi and I’m even more curious to try it.
Portions on the plate look like a kind of fish fillet covered with a transparent sauce with fennel. Meat is soft and has a little bit too mild-tasting for me but I love how good it goes with the taste of fennel.
(And now I know what is this Sepia. It’s a cuttlefish, a carnivorous cephalopod with two arms and eight tentacles. Almost a sea monster.)
We ordered in Amalthea four small dishes and we are really full! Every meal was delicious, though Antipasti and Boubouristi tickled mine fancy the most. The cook undoubtedly deserves standing ovation! And for everything we pay only 25 euros! Isn’t it an incredible place? I don’t hesitate to recommend you eating in Amalthea. If you’re in Aghios Nikolaos, go there first!
You don’t believe? Check the reviews on TripAdvisor! It’s ranked #2 of 36 other restaurants in Aghios!
Where is Amalthea?
Our second cuisine adventure happens in Rethymno, a nice but typical touristic place with many restaurants and taverns. If you are lucky enough, you can find a cosy and cheap one but it requires patience. Business is business and where are tourist, there are higher prices.
The place we enjoy with friends has a nice courtyard with plants and dark lights. Don’t know exactly where it is – usually I get lost easily in the labyrinth of streets and cul-de-sacs. Decorations are really climatic but the food is not so tasty. It looks gorgeous, though.
Here we get a meal per person. One of us orders mousakka. I can’t say that I like it or not – it is hard for me to be objective because I’m not the biggest fan of that dish.
Another friend of mine orders rice with prawns. Doesn’t sound like Cretan cuisine but I think it is the best choice. However, the portion is so big, that almost half of it remains on the plate.
My choice is a real gambling. I order a grilled tentacle of octopus. It looks really delicious, so glossy and white inside, but… I don’t know if my knife is blunt or if this meat is just rubbery. I try some and now I’m sure – meat has a consistency of a tire! I chew it endlessly but it’s enough for me and my lower jaw just after few bites. I try some black eyed peas salad but it’s too sour. Well, I wanted it all at my own risk. Still, it hurts to pay almost 10 euros for a rubbery tentacle…
Remembering flavours from Aghios Nikolaos we order a bowl of snails just for try. But it’s hard to get them out from a shell and meat is jelly-like… I’m very disappointed. I used to thought naively that local cuisine taste the same everywhere… Every time since now, when I order snails, I will recollect the taste of those I had in Aghios.
I’m lucky enough that Cretan cuisine stole my heart at the beginning. If you don’t like it at first time, don’t lose your heart for it. Check some reviews, ask locals what they recommend. Give it a chance! Maybe somewhere else you’ll find your cuisine paradise!
Καλή όρεξη! (Kalí óreksi!) – Bon appetit!
Did you try Cretan cuisine? Did you like it? Or maybe you have tried some other Greek food? Share your opinion about it with us!
And here you will find some more adventures from Crete, Greece:
– Elafonisi Crete: hiking trail to the pink beach you should know