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Cretan diet

Eating Habits

The more you eat out in Crete, particularly in the company of Cretans, you will notice when it comes to paying that bills are not individually split, Cretans find this splitting down of bills to be a deplorable habit and the Greeks have nicknamed this “Going German” (in the UK, we call this Going Dutch!).

In contrast, however, small tips are most welcome such as for the old lady in the village who goes and fetches the key to the church, or for the priest who is proud to show you around his church. You should in this latter instance never give money directly into the hand, but rather leave it at the entrance of the church in an appropriate receptacle.

As casually as the Greeks may like to dress in the daytime, when they go to church they put great emphasis on decent attire, moral codes are tightly observed. For anyone visiting churches, sleeveless blouses, shorts and beach clothes are definitely out. In many monasteries and churches, you will not be allowed entrance if you are not 'properly' dressed. It is advisable, at least, to wear long trousers; a pullover or a wrap to cover the shoulders if you are on a sightseeing tour which will take in visits to churches.

With dress codes in mind, if you are invited to a private home in Crete, don't turn up in shorts or sandals, as Cretans like to dress up. It's the same if you go out together with Cretans in the evening. Cretans have, like all the Greeks, a very different attitude to time. If you have agreed to meet in the 'afternoon', the earliest meant by this will be 6.00 p.m.


CRETE is an island of sun and sea, but it is also the home of Dionysos, the God of wine. In mythology, Dionysos, married Ariadne the daughter of King Minos, and brought to Crete the Craft of wine making. Crete was one of the first places in ancient times to establish the tradition of growing grapes for the production of wine, and the oldest wine cellar in the world has been discovered on Crete. In ancient times, Cretan wine was famed for its excellence and exported throughout the ancient world.

Amphora bearing the mark of "Vinum Creticum Excellens" have been found in a great numbers in Rome, Lyons, Athens, Egypt and Corinthia. The wine is also mentioned in the ancient writings of Homer, Pausanias and Euclides and in many other old European texts...even in the great works of Shakespeare.

In the Byzantine era, and through the Middle Ages, it wasn't only Cretan wine in general but specific makes of wine such as 'Malvuasia' which became well known.

The Italian Buondelmonti, in the 15th century, listed the export abroad of 20,000 barrels of Cretan wine. However, in the 19th Century many vineyards were destroyed as a result of the battles between the Turks and the Greeks. For 2000 years wine. which is high in alcohol content, full of bouquet and taste, has been a daily part of the Greek diet. Still today thanks to the sun, Cretan grapes grown in traditional style vineyards produce some excellent red and white wines, and the island alone provides a fifth of the total wine production of Greece.

Wines such as 'Mandilari', 'Kotsifali' and 'Liatiko' (which succeeded the ancient Malviasia) are among the better known Cretan red wines are produced in the areas around Archanes, Peza and Daphnes, near to Heraklion and Sitia. In smaller quantities, the white wines 'Viniana' and 'Romkios' are produced mostly in the areas around Heraklion and Kissamos.

'Maroulas' a sweet wine comes from the area around Chania.

In a world where increasingly there are fewer types of grapes producing ever-larger quantities of wines, it is reassuring to know that in Greece there is a wider range of grapes, which produce a rich selection of good wines.

Cretan Diet

The island of Crete is one of the most naturally healthy places in the world, where the people incorporate thousands of plants and herbs as part of everyday nutrition. The islanders have developed a particular diet, which has now been proved to be one of the most healthy in the world. The basics of this diet are bread, pulses, nuts, vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, olive oil, cheese, spices, and wine.

From these ingredients in a great variety of combinations, spring the delicious array of Cretan specialities. Research which started in 1960, using data from seven countries, concluded in 1986 that as a result of their diet, Cretan people suffered notably fewer deaths as a result of heart attacks, various forms of cancer and other diseases compared to all of the other places in the study. Figures from this research are given below.

From a separate and further study, it was concluded that not only was the Mediterranean cuisine better for the heart and produced fewer heart attacks, but the Cretan diet was in particular extremely healthy. A large part is played by the island's olive oil, which is produced in vast quantities on Crete and is basic ingredient in a multitude of dishes. So now increasingly, even in hotels, there is a demand for traditional Cretan specialities, and requests for old recipes. Therefor, not only does Crete offer a healthy climate but a particularly excellent diet. So for those who are curious and possess a modicum of courage, we have included some Cretan recipes with which to test out your culinary skills.


Heart Cancer



































(Angel Keys 1986)

Courgettes, Aubergine and Potato Moussaka

For 8-10 people

1 kg Lamb mince, 150 ml Olive oil, 2 onions, 6 medium sized courgettes, 3 aubergines, 6 medium sized peeled potatoes, 100 ml wine, 1-2 dessert spoons of tomato puree, Salt, pepper, Bechamel Sauce: 1 litre of milk, 2 eggs, 150 g grated cheese, Salt, pepper, nutmeg

Gently saute the onions in the oil and add the mince, turning until browned. Add the wine and tomato puree and leave to slowly simmer. Saute the thickly sliced courgettes, aubergines and potatoes - or alternatively these can be baked in a little oil in a hot oven, which will make the dish lighter. Grease a rectangular casserole dish with a little butter, scatter over with a little sieved flower. Then add in the following order, a layer of potato, minced mixture, courgettes, and minced mixture again. Make up the Bechamel sauce as follows: Heat the butter in a saucepan and make a roue with the flour by continuously stirring over the heat for a minute. Then add the milk in small amounts until the sauce thickens. At the end add the beaten eggs, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Pour the sauce over the meat, sprinkle with cheese and bake in a pre-heated oven at 200 C until it is golden brown on top.

Kreas jouvetsi me kitharaki

(Lamb stew with rice pasta)

For 5 to 6 people

1 kg Lamb, 100 ml Olive oil, 4 to 5 ripe tomatoes, 500 g rice pasta, 150 ml water, 150 g grated cheese, Salt and pepper. Cut the meat into small pieces and place in a casserole dish, or into 5 small individual dishes. Puree the tomatoes in a processor. Season the meat with salt and pepper, and add the pureed tomatoes. Add the oil and water and bake in a pre heated oven at 200 C until just tender. Before the neat is ready, prepare a saucepan of salted boiling water and cook the rice pasta. Strain the noodles, add then mix in with the meat and bake for further 15 minutes. Sprinkle with grated cheese and serve.

Paradosiako Stifado me Mosharaki

(Veal casserole with onions)

For 6 people

1 kg veal, 150 g Olive oil, 1 kg onions, 2 cloves of garlic, 2-3 Bay leaves, 500 ml red wine, Salt, pepper, fenugreek. Cut the meat into cubes. Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the roughly sliced onions and bay leaves. Saute the meat adding the chopped garlic, and when the meat is browned, add the wine until the meat is covered. Add the chopped garlic and fenugreek and simmer. Finally add salt, pepper and fenugreek and cook until tender.

Lagos Krasatos (Hare in Wine)

For 6 people

1 large rabbit (or hare), 300 ml red wine, 2 or 3 onions, 2 cloves of garlic, 3 or 4 bay leaves, 2 or 3 cloves, Salt, pepper, 2 dessert spoons of flour, 150 ml olive oil. Marinade the rabbit or hare the night before. Firstly slice the onions, and garlic and place into a casserole dish. Add the rabbit, bay leaves, cloves, pepper and pour over wine. Leave in cool place over night. Drain the flesh, retaining the marinade, and saute the pieces of rabbit in a pan with the oil. Dust with the sieved flour, and turn a few times. Add the liquid from the marinade, and bring to boil. Simmer gently until tender.

Psari me bamies (Fish with Okra)

For 6 people

1 kg White Fish such as Cod, 1 kg Okra (Ladies Fingers), 150 ml Olive Oil, 500 g tomatoes, 1 to 2 onions, a little lemon juice, Salt, pepper. Wash the fish and drain. Wash and trim the Okra, place in a saucepan with lemon juice and oil so that during the cooking they do not become to soft. Saute the onions in the oil in a saucepan and add the Okra, salt and pepper. Simmer very gently until the juices are reduced by half. Then take the half of the Okra away, lay the fish on top of the remainder and replace the remaining Okra. Cook gently for approximately 15-20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Dolmades me ambelofia

(Stuffed vine leaves)

For 5 to 6 people

500 g of vine leaves, 500 g rice, 2 or 3 artichoke hearts, 2 onions, 2-3 courgettes, 2 potatoes, 300 ml olive oil, 1 lemon, Fresh mint leaves. Place the vine leaves in boiling water for a few moments to soften. Drain and prepare the filling. Put the rice in a saucepan. Finely grate the potatoes, courgettes, onions and the artichoke hearts and add to the rice. Cut the mint into tiny pieces and add salt, pepper, oil and mix together. Place a spoonful or more of the filling onto each wine leaf and carefully wrap to create a small parcel. In a large pan, arrange the stuffed vine leaves in circular fashion and add just enough water to cover. Then leave to simmer gently until all the water is absorbed and the rice is tender. Before removing from the heat, squeeze the lemon and pour the juice over the vine leaves.


500 g filo pastry, 300 g finely ground almonds, 300 g finely ground walnuts, 2 teaspoonfuls of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of ground cloves, 150 g butter, Syrup: 450 g sugar, 300 ml water, 75 g honey, 2 dessert spoons lemon juice, Vanilla essence. Mix together the walnuts, almonds, cloves and cinnamon. Melt the butter and grease a rectangular baking tin and all of the leaves of the filo pastry. In the baking tin, lay out four sheets of pastry, and reserve a further four sheets. Now place a little of the filling on the sheets in the tin, and cover with two leaves of pastry. Keep repeating this until all the filling is used up. Then add the reserved four sheets of pastry to the top and tuck in all around. Cut the Baklava into squares, pour over the rest of the butter and bake in a pre-heated oven at 200 C until golden brown. Place all the ingredients of the syrup together in a little pan and bring to the boil, simmer for 5 to 10 minutes and pour over the hot Baklava.