Crete food: What to eat when you visit Crete
December 12, 2023

  [Disclosure: I was invited on a free trip with Jet2, which offers flights to Crete, and Incredible Crete, the Cretan tourist board, to explore the island – including the food!]

“Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.”

Not my words. Anthony Bourdain’s. But I can’t think of a better way to describe why food is so important in getting to know a place. And nowhere is this more apparent than in Crete, where a diverse diet of meat, fish, and vegetables galore, along with nature’s bounty of olive oil and honey seem to be the key to happy smiley people whose hospitality knows no bounds. 

As with many other places in Greek, food here offers joy, and meals seem to be endless, punctuated at start and finish with a shot of Raki that becomes more and more enjoyable as your time there goes on. (Trust me, I speak from experience). 

From traditional tavernas to high end restaurants, food experiences you should try firsthand and produce you should definitely be trying to take home with you, here’s a lowdown on the food and drink you should definitely try if you book your holidays to Crete.

Slow-cooked dishes and veg galore in traditional tavernas

Traditional Greek food

Tavernas are traditional Greek restaurants, serving up a whole range of traditional dishes, often personalised by the owner and their family. You’ll find all sorts on the menu, but don’t miss out on traditional dishes like Stifado and Kleftiko, cooked for hours until the meat falls apart and the gravy is thick and moreish.

But unlike some countries, while the appreciation of meat is high here, veg certainly isn’t left in the corner. Here, veg occupies centre stage just as often, whether it’s courgette flowers stuffed with cheese or tomatoes turned into sweet, crispy fritters. There are vegetable stews, vegetable dips, vegetable pies. It’s everywhere, and often from a garden or farm just a few miles down the road.

Multi-source meals and dips and snacks galore

If you’re someone whose perfect meal is to graze on endless dishes for hours, Crete is the place for you. The Greek mezze is possibly the closest thing I can get to food heaven, giving you the chance to taste pretty much everything all in one meal. 

Greek meals
Greek meals

Baskets of bread dipped in Tirokafteri – a spicy cheese dip – or tzatziki. Baba ghanoush with all its smoky char. Omelettes like you’ve never seen before, more aubergine, more dip. It keeps coming, and you could easily never go near a ‘main course’. 

Don’t forget to try traditional Cretan Dakos – a rusk made of whole wheat or barley flour that dates back to the Middle Ages. Have it smeared with fresh tomatoes and a glug of olive oil.

Greek breakfasts to start the day

Greek breakfast
Greek Breakfast
Greek breakfast

Whether it’s multi-course hotel breakfast (our selection at the King Minos Retreat Resort & Spa, which you can book through Jet2holidays, was very much a sight to behold) or a simple serving of Greek yoghurt with fresh fruit, or even a homemade cheese or meat pie (drizzle Cretan honey on the former and thank me later), breakfasts in Crete are joyful and not to be missed, no matter how hard you hit the Raki the night before.

The best local produce

A visit to Crete isn’t complete if you don’t try some of their local produce, whether that’s olive oil, honey, wine or anything else. If you get the chance, experience these amazing products ‘in the field’, which you’ll find plenty of opportunities to do. Whether it’s calling at a winery to taste some of their creations, visiting a family-owned olive mill and tasting your way through some of the island’s unrivalled liquid gold, or getting your hands on some Cretan honey. I’ve popped some links below of what we did to give you some inspo.

Crete olive oil
Crete produce

The place where kebabs are king

No, I’m not talking questionable doner on your way home. But traditional kebabs cooked over fire. Souvlaki – skewers of meat piled up high on plates with salad and fries as a side. Gyros – that crowd-pleasing combination of pitta, chicken, and fries all in one double-handful of comfort food. Greece is where kebabs are king and you shouldn’t go home without one. 

Kebabs crete
Crete souvlaki

Fresh fish straight out of the sea

Island life means fresh fish, and they do it well here. Menus often depend on what’s been caught that day, but no matter what it is it’s served simply, and left to be the star of the show. Octopus tentacle grilled simply and doused in olive oil. Whitebait-stye fish or calamari, coated in the lightest of batter and served with lemon. Whole fish, grilled with more of that peppery, grassy olive oil. The stuff of seafood lovers’ dreams.

Fish in Crete
Fish in Crete
Fish in Crete

Fine dining feasts 

Like any place, Crete has chefs who are mixing up their traditional flavours and lending a fine dining feel to their food culture. You’ll probably find them more in bigger cities like Heraklion, but they’re well worth a visit.

Peskesi Heraklion
Peskesi Heraklion
Peskesi Heraklion

If you’re in Heraklion, get to Peskesi, where food is grown on its own farm on the island then transformed into simple but ambitious dishes, from a farm salad with more elements than a Masterchef dish, to their signature ‘pork chops’ smoked at the table. Add to that the most beautiful lemon meringue I’ve ever seen, along with great service, good wine and a beautiful setting in a covered alley, and you’ve got a restaurant experience to remember. 

Sweet treats

Just when you think you’ve got no room left, you’ll have to make some for one of Crete’s sweet treats. Halva – a thick sweet paste often flavoured with rosewater and personalised by each place that serves it. Or get addicted to Loukoumades – Greek versions of donuts, deep-fried, sweet and worryingly addictive.

Halva Crete food
Loukoumades crete food

Raki – the real end to the meal (and start, and pretty much any other occasion)

Whether you like Raki or not, you’d best give it a go. Pretty much anywhere you go in Crete you’ll get offered one – not quite the same as Turkish raki and very much a key part of Cretan Culture.

Raki crete
Raki Crete

Visit someone’s business – have a raki. Finish your meal – have a raki. Say something funny – have a Raki. It sounds overkill, but somehow it isn’t. And once you’ve had a few, you might actually quite like it. Not only is it a sign of friendship and a warm welcome, it’s also a good digestif, so get one down you to make sure you’re ready for the next feast.

[Disclosure: I was invited on a free trip with Jet2, which offers flights to Crete, and Incredible Crete, the Cretan tourist board, to explore the island, which is where I tried all this food.  Jet2 do flights from London Stansted and also have a travel agent finder resource on their website if you need help planning a trip.]