This past summer, my partner and I did something that is very unusual for us. We took a vacation. It involved no family or family-like obligations, no work or work-related obligations, no nothing except vacation. Yes, one of us did yoga. And yes, the other one checked her email a few times. But really, it was a vacation. It was wonderful on many fronts, including beaches and sunshine, archaeology and cultural exploration. And, it was wonderful on various food and food-related fronts. So: here are a few miscellaneous comments on the wonders of Crete and its calories. (We did go elsewhere, but I will stick with Crete for these purposes, for the most part.)
First: A view.
Now the food:
1. Dakos: I first ate this on a buffet offered at Pavlos Pension in Triopetra. This is the place that the yoga folks stayed, and where I visited daily for one or more meals. Every day, there was a vegetarian buffet of Cretan foods. Early on, there was the most delightful thing called davos. This involves, first, a kind of barley rusk that is traditional in Crete, a twice baked bread that is quite hard unless it has the opportunity to soak up olive oil or something else wonderful. That something else, when it is dakos, involves tomatoes and cheese and olive oil, and oregano. At Pavlos Pension, the dish came as a large bowl of the topping and a bowl from which one chose rusks. Then, one piled the topping onto the rusks, waited and. . . was delighted. I had dakos (spelled various ways) a variety of other places, and in more formal settings, but this was the start of a dangerous and wonderful obsession.
2. Espresso Fredo: I encountered this the very first day I was in Greece, in Athens, introduced by our delightful airbnb host. It is just what it sounds like: a cold espresso complete with ice cubes. But, that does not quite describe what it is, if you are imagining anything might get at starbucks or some such place. They come without sugar, medium and sweet, and I always went with metrio (medium). The first one was the best -- and the first place the best -- but I also had these other places, including a delightful espresso redo served at the airport in Mykonos. As a side note, almost every place we went (except one high end place we were in on an island) also had fresh squeezed orange juice, including the tiny places at the airport. And, the oranges were amazing.
3. Sun Dried Octopus: I was in a tiny village in Crete watching my partner buy blankets in a little place in Spili and saw an amazing post card, which we ended up receiving as a gift. On the card? What looks like a clothes line, on which are hanging multiple large reddish colored octopuses (or is that octopi?). I wanted the card just for the oddity and the smile, though I had seen nothing like that in Crete. Then, while on Mykonos, sitting in a taverna by a port, there they were -- a row of octopus hanging in the air, in the sun -- and there it was, on the menu. An adventure. We tried it. I liked it more than I had anticipated. Slices of cooked sun dried octopus in olive oil, vinegar and herbs. I am not running out to buy it and (my neighbors might applaud here) I am definitely not hanging octopus out my window to dry, but it was one of the most foodie things I have ever done.
4. Rabbit: I love rabbit. I looked for it various places after seeing it on a menu in Spili and not having it. But: I did have it elsewhere after one of those nights trying very hard to find a restaurant and making every mistake possible with a map and with local instructions and getting frustrated and then having a delightful meal. The rabbit was amazing. My personality not so much. It was served somewhat like the octopus in that it was in a light sauce with olive oil, vinegar and herbs. And it was roasted perfectly. I am 99% sure it was wild, but almost as sure I am wrong. Where did we have it? Chrisostomos Taverna in Chania, a largish place on the north west side of Crete.
5. Raki: Yes, I bought some. It was amazing, and flavored with honey. No I did not bring any home. Yes I should have.
6. Cheese pies: I started the trip with a cheese pie in Athens and then got them several other times, including one at the restaurant where we had rabbit. (Sfakia cheese pies are a particular version which I also had at Pavlos Pension). Each is filled with a traditional Crete cheese, which can vary from quite tart and savory to somewhat sweet. And each one I had was a delight. On occasion this is accompanied by honey, which, well, is delicious.
7. Baklava: While I used to think of this as really really Greek, I only had it once in Crete (which only became a part of the Greek national state relatively recently and is really not the same thing). I did, though, indulge once, at a small bakery in Agia Galania -- and it was delightful. That one piece of baklava, which was not unduly sweet and chock full of nuts, lasted several days.
8. Olive Oil: On a Chania food tour we took with a new friend, we went to a place called the Olive Shop. We had a olive oil tasting, at which we not only tasted very different oils, but learned how to do so in Crete. This involves holding a delightful bit of bread, pouring olive oil on to it, adding sea salt (preferably wild) and a sprinkle of oregano and . . . smiling. Oddly enough the walking tour place is called something like Athens Walking Tours, but it does the Chania food tour. I recommend it. I also recommend Cretan olive oil, some of which comes from a region to the east of Chania.
9. Fava: When I first saw this on the menu at a place in Athens, I thought it was fava beans. I was totally right but utterly wrong. Fava beans in Crete are kind of like yellow lentils or yellow split peas; they are indigenous to Crete and as far as I know nowhere else. We had a dish prepared from fava a number of times, including our first night at a place called Byzantium, later at another place called Mani Mani in Athens, and much later at a very nice place called 1800 on Santorini where we had it in a kind of three takes on fava appetizer.
Fava kind of looks like dal when served, and is usually warm. Every version we had tasted differently and had a different texture. Simple, but not so simple. IN places that grow olives, it comes with those -- while here and there on the islands which do NOT have olives (yes, these exist) the topping is capers. I admit, I preferred the capers. We did buy some fava to try to make -- which makes me a tad nervous, but I will try. It is not in the Crete cookbook I purchased. But it is findable here, for example.
Giant Beans are unrelated but worth a mention as they became a fan favorite too. They are (surprise) large, white, and usually come in a tomato-y sauce. (Crete's cuisine was definitely changed when tomatoes arrived from the "new world.") Giant beans, like much of the food in Crete, is a seasonal product.
10. Pork: I love pork in almost every version imaginable. And, we had it -- as sausage and as a kind of smoked item I cannot even describe in a place somewhat outside of Chania. I cannot remember the name and may never have something quite so lovely again.
There is more. Think freshly caught (very freshly caught) fish, simply grilled. Think eggplant and green beans and . . . .But I must stop. Can you tell, I loved Crete?