Cretan Food, Wine and Recipes
‘The Mediterranean diet is currently considered by Nutritionists as a modus vivende that endows people with longevity and sound health, with Crete at its epicentre, as supported by research conducted on an international scale.’
Cretan food and indeed Greek food in general, traditionally centres round vegetables, fish, seafood, oil and a pelethora of fruit. Meat is less a centrepiece, more often used to enrich primarily vegetable dishes.
The Oxford Companion to Food (edited by late and great Alan Davidson) states that there is ‘an astonishing continuity in culinary matters from Ancient Greece through to the modern era. The modern trahanas cracked wheat boiled in milk, dried in the sun, and stored for soup-making in the winter-is the ancient tragos. Skorthalia, the garlic and bread sauce which often accompanies fried fish and vegetables, is the skorothalmi of ancient Athenians, And modern Fava-a puree of yellow split peas dressed with raw onion, olive oil, and lemon-sound very similar to the ancient etnos which was sold in the streets of Athens. Bread-and pie-making have been a long tradition. Sweets centred round all kinds of nuts, sesame seeds, and honey abounded in ancient Greece as they do now. Although it is fruit that is offered at the end of a meal, cakes and puddings are consumed with coffee.
For Easter large quantities of hard-boiled eggs are painted bright scarlet. Also small and large cakes are made, some of the shortbread variety – koulourakia-and others of the brioche type-tsourekia. These are often decorated with the scalet-painted paschal eggs.
Small cups of freshly made Turkish-style coffee are the national drink, as is the aniseed-flavoured alcoholic drink Ouso -and retsina, the resinated wine, which are kept mostly for the evening and always accompanied by food.
Coastal and island Greece has on the whole a lighter cuisine relying mainly on vegetables and seafood. There is a daintiness and playfulness about it, needed if sea urchins, sea anemones, or limpets are on the menu. There is a natural concern with colour and appearance. Think of the pretty picture of a round large roasting tin filled with stuffed tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, and courgettes. Alight fish soup finished with the much loved avgolemeno-egg-and-lemon sauce-is a universal dish there even if it is only made ith petropsara-rockfish which are the humblest and smallest of the catch.’
GrapesSince joining the EC in 1981 the Greek wine trade has improved enormously and a new system of ‘appellations’ has been introduced. This has led to what the wine writer Hugh Johnson has described as ‘an explosion of stylish authentically Greek wines’
However some of the locally produced wine sold in mini-markets and tavernas as ‘local wine’ are still fairly primitive. But what’s wrong with locally produced primitive wine, some may say?
Much of the best Greek wine is available at wine merchants and supermarkets. For Cretan wine Hugh Johnson particularly recommends wine made by Alexakis, Ekonomou and Lyarakis.
Boutari J and Son are producers and merchants, whose reasonably priced wines are widely available and always a safe bet.
In year 2000 it has been estimated that more than 35 million olive trees were under cultivation in Crete. The method used for Olive oil production is little changed from the Roman age 2,200 years.
Olives for oil are gathered when ripe around late autumn. The fruit must be gathered undamaged by the picking process, so traditional harvesting methods of hand-picking and beating are still widely used on Crete. The fruit is then carefully crushed on fibre mats to ensure the stones are not broken. The fluid extracted when settled separates into a watery liquid and oil.
Souda, which is close to Aptera village, has three fishmongers (at the Western end of the town, just past the big Inka supermarket).
Visitors from the UK may be surprised at the small size of some fish for sale, but they certainly are fresh.
It is well worth buying firm fleshed Bream or Mullet which can be easily cooked on either a barbecue or in a frying pan.