Farm To Table – It seems to be the latest slogan being thrown around in the foodie world a lot lately.
What a crazy concept!
In this day and age is it really bizarre to think that things we consume actually come from farms not supermarkets? We are so used to pre-packaged supermarket foods it would be interesting to see how many people know how a pineapple, or even okra actually grows?
It’s ok. I’ll give you time to Google it…….Okra was a surprise to me!
But on the incredible island of Crete, Greece’s largest island, farm to table is not a new exciting fad – but a way of life. A way of living and eating that has been passed down for generation. Which is now considered among one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. People in Crete live to be well over 100 years old…so they must be doing something right!
Philosophy of Crete food: “Everything we get from nature in Crete is the diet. Everything is local and seasonal “
We recently spent an amazing long weekend in Crete, exploring all the foodie wonders that this fascinating island has to offer. One place in particular is the Botanical Park & Gardens located near Skordalou, a village that is around 20 km away from the city of Chania.
The Botanical garden was born out of a fiery natural disaster. In 2003 a fire started in a near by village and within 24 hours everything was burnt. They lost olive trees that were perhaps the oldest trees in Europe (over 400 hundred years old) and much of their other agriculture. But rather than replanting olive trees, owner Peter Marinakis and his 3 brothers decided to build a park that highlighted the areas unique micro climate, by planting fruit trees from all over the world, local herbs, and medicinal and ornamental plants. A place to help reconnect people with nature.
Today this area is a place of relaxation, education and of course a place to get an exquisite traditional Crete food surrounded by the unique countryside.
As we walked around the gardens with Peter he pointed out, and allowed us to taste fruits and herbs from all over the world. Mint from Morocco, Guava from Brazil, Macadamia nuts from Australia. You could also touch, smell and learn about traditional medicinal herbs frequently used by the locals to cure a number of ailments.
After exploring all of the flora and fauna you can then sit down an experience true Cretan hospitality at their specialty restaurant. With food prepared with ingredients coming from their personal vegetable garden as well as herbs and fruit coming from around the park, this is a treat for all the senses. We tasted plate after plate of traditional cretan dishes. Dishes which interestingly enough have no recipes, as locals use what is available and in season – so no two recipes will ever be the same.
So what makes the Cretan lifestyle one of the healthiest in the world?
- As I just mentioned – using fresh, organic produce when it’s in season
- They don’t eat red meat very often – only on Sunday’s. But you will find a load of seafood on the island!
- They drink a single glass of wine with lunch and dinner. That is why they have a lower case of heart attacks.
- They walk a lot!
- They also attribute the fact that they live longer to the amount of olive oil they consume – 50 litres (13.2086 gallons) per person per year! The reason they use a lot of olive oil is its their only real source of energy, as they don’t eat red meat.
“People in Crete swim in olive oil” (you might not be able to see it – but trust me it’s there!!!)
“Olive oil is the sauce of nature”
Along with their copious amounts of olive oil and wine, there is another liquid you might have heard about or experienced in Greece – Raki.
Raki interestingly enough is a Turkish word, but as the Cretan word is often too difficult to pronounce – Tsikoudia (τσικουδιά) – they all just go with Raki. Either way Raki is something that will be thrust into your hands at every turn in Crete. Not only is it good for your health – they often say:
“You only have to visit the doctor in only one case, when the raki runs out.”
But in the villages it’s a rule to drink raki before you leave. It’s a way for the locals to show hospitality. To show their love to you, their honoured guest! So just suck it up, say yes, and take the shot – you’re on holiday right!
If you are someone that not only enjoys the sights, smells and tastes, but enjoys getting their hands dirty on their foodie vacation then make sure you also add Rotonta traditional café to your Crete food itinerary. This cafe not only has one of the best views of the area Kissamos but it has actual farm land where you can get your hands in the dirt and see how many local items are grown organically by the owners.
We also had the opportunity to have a meal cooked by the owners wife, a lady we now fondly know as Mrs Maria. Cooking up some famous crete food including:
Dakos (also called koukouvagia ): Which is kinda like bruschetta but the bread is barley rusks, topped with grated fresh tomato (straight out of the garden) and myzithra, goat’s milk cheese made from the goats they also have on the farm. These are then drizzled with Cretan virgin olive oil and dusted with salt, oregano, pepper.
Dolmas: vines leaves stuffed with a mixture of rice, tomatoes, herbs and a generous pouring of olive oil. She also stuffed zucchini flower as well with the rice mixture – a new favourite of mine I have to say!
and also Gamopilafo which is a rice dish often served at Cretan weddings – Gamos means ‘wedding’ in Greek. This dish is similar to risotto where the rice is simmered in rich meat broth of usually goat, lamb or rooster (this particular day we had goat). Yum Yum! As a side note to all our Greek friends, if you are getting married soon and serving this dish, please feel free to invite us! Pretty please.
We were also lucky enough to get a behind the scenes glimpse into Mrs Maria kitchen where she showed us how many of these famous dishes are made. Mrs Maria doesn’t speak a lot of english so you may need to track down someone to translate for you – but it’s a worth while Crete food experience as she is truly a pro in the kitchen.
Crete is a place where you can happily gorge yourself to your hearts content – all the while telling yourself “it’s ok – it’s one the healthiest lifestyles in the world.”
Will this stop you actually putting on weight while in Crete – Hell No! Remember what I said about lots of walking and only 1 glass of wine with lunch and dinner? But it’s a nice little lie to tell yourself as they refill your wine glass, while you’re licking your plate and asking for seconds. Because you will – the foods just that good!
Looking for more farm to table delights in Crete? Check out our review on Salis Restaurant in Chania – it’ll have you drooling
How to Get to Crete?
Aegean airlines have direct flights to Chania departing Athens daily. It’s a hassle free 50 minute flight that will get you there in comfort and you’ll get a nice snack along the way. Aegean are also Star Alliance members and six-time winner of Europe’s Best Regional Airline. They are the local airline that can take you to over 30 Greek destinations and flies direct three times a day from London to Athens so you can use them to book your entire Greek vacation!
For more information and flight prices click here: http://aegeanair.com
Where to Stay in Crete.
During our time in Crete we stayed at the fabulous Minoa Palace Resort & Spa. 4 star beach front luxury that is the perfect spot to relax in style while in Crete. Plus there’s a tasty buffet breakfast offering everything from fruit, honey nuts and yoghurt (greek yoghurt is the BEST), to local specialties like cheese pie! Yuuuumy!
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For more information about what to do in Crete check out Discover Greece for the best guide for travellers to Greece; they’ll keep you informed of events, accommodation, destination information, entertainment and more.