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FOOD AND DRINK

Crete is self sufficient in fruit and vegetables, and has considerable livestock farming capacity, particularly sheep and goats. No surprise then that fresh ingredients are one of the mainstays of Cretan cooking. Differing little from mainland Greek cuisine and carrying some eastern influences Cretan cuisine is probably best described as robust and hearty rather than one of the worlds great sophisticated cuisines. None of which means though that good food is hard to come by, simple preparation of ingredients does not equate to unpalatable food.

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There are two characteristics of Cretan cooking that set it apart, and that also may not be to your liking. Food is generally served fairly lukewarm and also has a tendency to be quite oily. This is deliberate and conforms to local taste. to get your food hot ask for it "zesto" and to hold back the oil ask for it "horis lahdi". How successful your requests will be remains to be seen, as many dishes, particularly stews will have been prepared before your arrival.That said the tourist industry is one of the mainstays of the Cretan economy and they have been at it for some time now. There is an appreciation of European tastes, and of course English breakfasts and burger and chips are to be had in all but the most remote of spots.

Cretan wine has had a resurgence in recent years and the quality is much improved. It is widely available in restaurants and supermarkets. Most restaurants also offer a cheap, and usually very palatable house wine. Amstel and Heineken beers are brewed locally as well as the Greek beer Mythos, which is as good if not better than the competition. Imported beers are available at a premium, and all the usual international brand soft drinks and spirits are available at reasonable prices. Fresh fruit juices, particularly orange juice are available, but fairly expensive given the proximity of the trees to the point of service.

Ouzo and Retsina are widely sold, though these are Greek products as opposed to Cretan ones. The Cretan spirit is Raki or Tsikoudia, distilled from fermented grape skins and similar to the Italian Grappa. It is generally offered as a gift of hospitality after a meal in a restaurant. According to custom it is encumbent upon you to accept it or it will be regarded as an insult to your host. Sufficient tourists have passed through here now though for daggers to remain sheathed in the event it is not to your taste. I likened my first experience of Raki to syphoning petrol, but with practise I find I am rather worryingly developing a taste for it.

Greek coffee is served as sketo (no sugar), metrio (medium sweet). or gliko (very sweet). A thick black concoction, it is served in small glasses half full of grounds that are not meant to be drunk. Greek coffee outside of Greece would more normally be called Turkish coffee. For obvious reasons it is not a good idea to call it that in Crete.

Here is an explanation of some of the more common local dishes to be found on menus:-

STARTERS
TIRIPITAKIA          Cheese pies
SAGANAKI              Fried cheese
DOLMADHES          Stuffed vine leaves
FAVA                        Puree of split peas
TZATZIKI               Yoghurt & cucumber dip
TARAMASALATA    Fish roe pate

ENTREES
MOUSSAKA              Mince meat, aubergine and béchamel sauce
STIFADO                  Stew with tomatoes, usually made with beef
SOUVLAKI               Meat grilled on a skewer
KLEFTIKO                Meat, veg and potato covered in pastry
TSALINGARIA           Snails

VEGETABLES
HORIATIKI                 Greek salad
BRIAM                         Roast vegetables
GEMISTES                   Stuffed vegetables 

The menu below is typical of the fare to be found in most restaurants-

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