The cultural influence of the various peoples that have passed through this land over the centuries have left their mark on all sectors of human activity, naturally including gastronomy. The most important influence on Cretan cuisine goes back to Minoan times. To this day, products on the Cretan table are more or less the same: olive oil, cereal grains, legumes, honey, wild greens and herbs. In Byzantine times the Cretans preserved their customs and urban middle class families enjoyed complex dishes of excellent flavours.
During Venetian rule, meat was expensive and not often consumed. The most important shift in the Cretan diet came when products from the New World became known and began spreading throughout the island; tomatoes and potatoes as well as other products were gradually incorporated into local cuisine in the most creative manner.
There is a strong gastronomic tradition and a wide range of dishes, using every ingredient in the most imaginative way; it is extraordinary! Courgettes are eaten raw, boiled and sprinkled with olive oil, fried, cooked in the oven, stuffed, or in pies and patties. And this is only one ingredient!
All fruits and vegetables are disguised and put forth either as the main character in culinary creations or play second fiddle to meat, fish, pasta or legumes. This inventiveness of housewives who combine ingredients with different flavours – fruit with meat, sour with sweet, legumes with vegetables – while maintaining the authentic taste of each one, is the main success of Cretan cuisine, which lets “nothing go to waste”.
The tough conditions under which rural populations generally live, but also the special conditions of exclusion and poverty they have often experienced, forced them, at times, to adapt to very austere solutions for their daily diet; this, however, did not adulterate the basis of their cooking nor made dishes less tasty and enjoyable.
Bread became rusk to keep longer. The root systems of numerous plants became a delicacy at times of fasting; okra was dried, fresh fish was preserved in salt and meat was cured into smoked sausage to keep longer. Any fruit that was not or could not be eaten raw was cooked and turned into jams or preserves. Everything from yesteryear to the present has been used to its full extent, consumed in dozens of different ways. A wonderful environmentally friendly practice, emerging from the harmonious coexistence of humans with nature, rooted in ancient practices of times when advanced civilization could not but have an impact on cuisine. Ancient Greek Customs have been preserved to this day and have hardly changed!
“Krasopsychia” (literally: wine boost), i.e. starting one’s day with a breakfast of a mug of wine and rusk has been an almost pan-hellenic custom since antiquity, while ancient Greek “polykarpia” (literally: miscellaneous fruits) (a dish made with boiled fruit and nuts, cereals and legumes accompanied by aromatic herbs and wild greens) have always given handy and tasty solutions to most, mainly rural, communities of the region.