Special thanks to Sofie Couwenbergh for this amazing article! She joined our food tour in Chania and she shared her unique experience in her blog Wonderful Wanderings.
I love to eat. Oh do I love to eat. Strangely enough I’d never gone on a food tour before. Not until Viator gave me the opportunity to go on one while I was in Crete.
Our food tour took place in the old city of Chania, located 140 km to the west of Heraklion. We met our local guide George at the Church of Trimartyri, the cathedral of Chania, where he told us a bit about the Cretan diet and the places we’d be visiting in the following hours.
What the Cretan diet consists of?
Eating local products (cereals, fruits, vegetables and wild greens, fish, wine, little meat, not a lot of dairy) and using a lot of olive oil.
Coffee, tea and pastries
George first took us to a local coffee and tea store where we could smell some coffee varieties. Special about this shop was that they have a traditional coffee processor that they still use.
After that we moved a little further down the road, to bistro Kronos. There the coffee drinkers among us got the chance to taste some real Greek coffee. Those who didn’t drink coffee, like me, got a cup of delicious Mountain Tea.
Although the tea was good, my attention soon went to the cupboards of Greek pastries they’d put in front of us. Cookies with almond and loukoumades, fried balls a bit smaller than a ping-pong ball and filled with hot, running honey. Those were amazing. When you put them in your mouth they were just a fried little ball, but when you bit them the honey came flooding out over your tongue.
We were all quite comfortable around our coffee, tea and pastries, but George urged us to get going as there was still a lot to see.
Traditional coffee processing and pastries shop.
45 Mousouron Street, Chania
Pastry shop and bistro.
23 Mousouron Street, Chania.
From the bistro we headed towards the marketplace. This kind of made me think of some of the markets in London, or La Boquería in Barcelona. The municipal market in Chania is a market hall with various stores and places where you can grab a bite.
Our first stop was at Cretan Nature, a shop selling traditional Cretan products and biological products. Think herbs and healthy biscuits.
In the store something brown caught my attention. It looked like chocolate, but was called “carob”. I asked the owner of the store and he told me carob is known in Greece as “chocolate for poor people”. The carob plant holds beans with seeds that weigh about the same, which is why those seeds used to serve as a measurement for weight. It is even believed that the word “carat”, which refers to the unit of mass for gemstones and pearls and the unit of purity for gold, probably comes from the word “carob”.
The things we learn when traveling.
Another thing that got my attention at Cretan Nature were bags of Mountain Tea. I’d just tried this tea for the first time at the bistro we went to and decided to buy a bag to take home with me.
Traditional Cretan products and biological products.
Municipal Market, n° 64-66.
When we left Cretan Nature, George took us for our second portion of pastries that day. First he introduced us to rusk. Rusk is bread that is baked twice to conserve it better. There are different kinds of rusk like there are different kinds of bread and you can eat rusk dry or with some water or olive oil to make it softer.
After the rusk it was time for kalitsounia, typical Greek cheese pies that can be either sweet or salty.
Both variations tasted good, but I have to say that by that time I was starting to get a little full from mixing so many different foods.
Municipal Market, n° 2
Oh I love cheese. I used to be a real fan of those super soft, super creamy running cheese, but lately I’ve learned to appreciate older cheeses with a stronger taste as well. So when George took us to a cheese store next, I didn’t complain.
Mohlakis is a family business that produces its own cheese and they seem to be good at it, because when we were there the owner was helping one customer after the other.
We got to taste two different kinds of cheeses. One was Graviera, the Creta, Gruyère, but I’m afraid I forgot the name of the second one. I do remember that I liked it, though!
Traditional Cretan Cheese
Municipal Market n° 54
Let there be olive oil
While all the stores we’d visited so far had been stores where locals went to buy their products as well, The Olive Shop, located by the old city walls, wasn’t.
Well, George told us that no Cretan would ever by olives or olive oil from a store as all Cretans have their own olive trees, or they have family who have their own olive trees. Cretan harvest their own olives and make their own olive oil, thus the olives and oil you can find around the island are only there for the tourists to buy.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as The Olive Shop had a much larger collection of olive oils than you can find in most stores in Belgium (I can’t speak for the rest of Europe).
We got to taste some of the varieties, but what I found weird is that we had to taste the olive oil straight from a spoon and not on a piece of rusk or bread as I thought we would.
Now I like olive oil, but to eat it pure from a spoon… not so much.
Luckily there were raisins and little crackers to eat in between spoons, but it’s clear they weren’t meant to be had with the olive oil.
The Olive Shop
Olive products: oil, pastes, cosmetics and olive wood objects.
36 Portou Street, Chania.
Something a little stronger
The last stop of our tour was at a wine store for some Greek wine tasting. This might come as a shock to some of you, but I don’t drink wine. Luckily the store owner had something else for us to try as well: submarines!
Submarines, you ask?
Yes. The concept of a submarine is this: you take a scoop out of a jar with a specific kind of sweet and than put the spoon with the sweet in a glass of water so that the sweet can soften. After a minute or two you take the spoon out and lick the sweet off of it. When finished, you drink the glass of water which now also has a sweet taste.
Courtesy of MarocMama.com (Thanks Amanda!)
How was it? Well, very sweet, but good for one spoon.
Wine and traditional products store
70 Daskalogiani Street, Chania
This was the first food tour I ever went on, so I don’t have anything to compare it to. Overall it was a fun experience. Our guide was knowledgeable and answered questions with pleasure. The food we had was good and I didn’t feel completely stuffed when the tour was over, which is a plus as well.
One little point of critique concerns the timing. Maybe this is a southern thing, but our three-hour tour lasted for over four hours. I feel like they may have wanted to cram too many stops into the, as we were urged to move on several times. George didn’t seem to mind guiding us for longer, but I have to say that after three hours I was ready to do some exploring on my own.
One other thing is that I felt the tour was more about aperitivos and desserts than the whole range of Cretan food. I think it would have been nice if we had had one sit-down small meal. That didn’t have to take long and it didn’t have to be a real meal, but just one small plate of something that would have been a typical Greek lunch or dinner dish.
What I liked best? Definitely the Mountain Tea and pastries at the Kronos bistro!