Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Dionysus found on Crete

During our short trip to Crete we found that the Greek god of feast and wine, Dionysus, lives on Crete. Also known as the Roman God Bacchus, he is responsible for general merriment during mealtimes. But we found that he also possess a more mischievous side, especially dangerous for the unawares traveler of this lovely island...


We arrived, late in the evening on Tuesday, at the hotel. Our first meal on Crete was thus our breakfast at the hotel. Everything looked very nice but we were still in charge and we started with a light-ish meal including yogurt, fruit, fresh tomatoes, olives, one rasher of bacon, a croissant, orange juice, coffee and other fresh produce. We enjoyed the view and sun during this meal while we heard that snow was observed in Sweden :)

After strolling on the beach we went back to the resort for a introductory cooking class. We learned how to make tzatziki and dakos. Below is a picture of Carina's dakos. It is fresh tomato on a barley rusk topped with soft goat/sheep cheese, oregano and, of course, olive oil. We quickly consumed these snacks.
Dakos made by Carina

We strolled through the streets in the area until lunch time and decided to have a cocktail each and a light lunch (one Cretan-pizza to share). We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and when evening came we decided to find a nice restaurant to really try Cretan cuisine. This is where everything started to change...

Just off the main coastal road (Agia Marina), we strolled until we came to the restaurant: Veranta. We were greeted by the manager Niko Kokkinakis who made us feel very welcome. The restaurant is located on a hill and we had a lovely view of of the sea and. Under the canvas roof, grapevines were growing and the whole atmosphere was quite awesome.

While we were browsing through the menu we were brought (on the house) raki, a strong, local, vodka-like drink made from the skins of pressed grapes. This was accompanied by bread with olive oil, cucumber and preserved olives - which were very nice.

At this stage Niko saw our indecision and he took us to the back of the restaurant where he showed us how they were preparing the slow cooked lamb in an wood-fired outdoor oven. Everything decided, we ordered a local red wine, and as starters halloumi and local sausages. Not only were both these dishes very good, the sausages were probably the best we had outside South Africa*.

Carina ordered a seafood platter (the recommended seafood dish) while I ordered the slow cooked lamb. The food was excellent. The lamb was very soft with a smoky flavor from the wood. The potatoes also had this flavor but was also permeated with the juices of the lamb during cooking.

However, at this stage trouble was looming. Both dishes was quite substantial, especially after the appetizers, bread and starters. We thus helped each until neither of us could eat a bit more from either dish.

I felt confident that we were in the home straight and ordered a Greek coffee while Carina bravely ordered a coffee and the Greek desert kataifi. Niko brought us these but included a sweet orange preserve that his mother made.

After the coffee, Niko appeared with another bottle of wine and while smiling said: "don't thank me, thank the gods, they sent it from the kitchen...on the house". We thanked him (or the gods) while protesting but to no avail. Slowly, while enjoying the lovely ambiance in the restaurant we appeased Dionysus.

Finally we were readying ourselves to leave Veranta when again Niko appeared. Carrying more gifts from the gods we were served, again on the house, pancakes filled with ice-cream cream and strawberries and cream. This was accompanied by rakomelo (raki with honey).

By this time the gods must have known that we could not be more merry or festive and we tried to pay. We were unsuccessful. Niko repeatedly assured us that we should not worry and come back the next day, or the one after, but that we should enjoy the rest of the night. Again we thanked him for the lovely evening and very slowly (and very carefully) made our way back to the hotel.

I think this was the most we ate and drank during one meal and and we went to bed after all the gluttony. We vouched to never eat again (or at least not as much at one time).


Surprisingly we were a bit peckish the following morning and we started the day with a similar breakfast as the day before. I however also discovered some small cheese and spinach pies and we supplemented our meal with these as well as salmon on small pieces of toast.

We decided to skip lunch and also climb the hill behind the hotel to ensure we spend some of the calories we accumulated thus far. We arrived at the top of the hill and found the restaurant Vigli, with an amazing view of Thodorou island. Our intentions was to have something small to drink - hill climbing being thirsty work - and we ordered a strawberry sorbet and a frozen yogurt with fruit. Of course we should have expected that these drinks to be elaborate. We found ourselves enjoying refreshing, sweet and rich (but also reasonably high calorie) drinks while staring at the sea.
Snowy mountains in the background

In the afternoon we went on a tour of the orange valley to see where some they grow some of the produce we were enjoying (more about these tours in the next post). We stopped at a  tavern to enjoy freshly squeezed orange juice, got some free oranges and bought sweet nectarines from a roadside seller.
The European maple tree in the background is over 500 years old
Just before going for dinner at the Elaion restaurant at the hotel, we went to Veranta to settle our bill of the previous evening. This time we were successful :)

At the Elaion we chose the same seat we had for breakfast and thus the same view. I ordered scallops while Carina ordered the local sausages as for starters, we also ordered a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon from the Daskalaki winery each. This wine was chosen since the a colleague of Carina has the surname Daskalaki (note that the wine was deep and rich and very good).
Bread served with olives, olive oil and creamy seafood dip
The scallops were the best scallops both of us have ever tasted and the best dish of the whole vacation. Unfortunately we devoured these before we could take any pictures. The chef, Ioannis Koufos is really good.
Empty plate where scallops were!
As main courses we ordered pork with sweet potatoes and beef with caramelized onions and a cheese sauce. Both these dishes were very good.

We ended our meal with coffee and Carina braved another desert, a strawberry pavlova (which I help to conquer).


Another day and another breakfast and this time Carina added a waffle to ensure there is some variety.

We spent the day in the city, Chania, meandering thought the streets of the old town. We had lunch on the harbor and enjoyed a Greek classic, moussaka.

On our return, we accidentally got off the bus too early and needed to walk approximately 4 km to get to the hotel. This was in addition to the rest of the day's meanderings and we felt that this justified a nice dinner on the last night of our holiday. Later in the evening we found a fish restaurant on the beach.

We had saganaki (pan fried cheese) and a type of feta saganaki with a spicy sauce as starters. Both of these were really good and the best dishes of the day.

As main course I had fried sole while Carina has grilled swordfish and we enjoyed these with an ample amount of light white wine.

At the end of the meal we we ordered coffee and were surprised with chocolate cakes and mouse, on the house. Before we left the gods decided we should also have another gift, a small flask of raki. After these treats we returned to the hotel, successfully concluding all the dinners in Crete.


On the morning of the last day we ate breakfast and and heard the gods rumble. I subsequently supplemented mine with additional sausages, potatoes au gratin, salmon on toast, baked tomato and cheese and a spinach and cheese pie. Carina, not wanting to offend anyone, supplemented her normal breakfast with a pancake topped with honey and cheese, a rolled pastry with honey and nuts, a sweet filo pastry, a spinach and cheese pie and a cream and strawberry topped meringue.
Second breakfast
Sweet breakfast
Our flight was in the evening and we visited the Terra Creta olive mill. We had a tour through the factory and learned a lot about the olive cultivation and the production of olive oil from the factory manager, Kostas. We tasted a number of different extra virgin olive oils and bought some to take home.

We decided to have a final meal before leaving for the airport and remembered the Romeos Family Restaurant. As we approached the restaurant we read their lunch special: Tzatziki, Greek salad and pork schnitzel for two people. We were made welcome by Manthos Giannarakis and we decided to have the special. However, before we could order anything to drink Manthos informed us that the special includes 500 ml wine, and we happily accepted this. We were served bread, with a very nice olive paste, the lovely Greek salad with a beautiful piece of feta cheese and fresh tomatoes as well as a very nice tzatziki.

The schnitzel and accompanying side dishes was also very nice but at this stage again we were struggling with the generous amount after the starter.

After the meal we almost ordered coffee, but the gods smiled on us one last time. Manthos brought coffee, on the house together with a chocolate and shortbread log.

Thus concluded our final meal in Crete and we were very satisfied and Dionysus appeased.


Not since eating in France have we had a similar culinary experience**. We highly recommend going to Crete to eat (more reasons to go will be discussed in the next post). It is of course the people at all the eateries that made this possible and we recommend anyone to visit them if possible. Thanks to the following:

Niko Kokkinakis at Veranta,
Vigli resturaunt,
Ioannis Koufos (and the other staff) at the Elaion at Thalassa Beach Resort,
Kostas at Terra Creta olive mill,
Manthos Giannarakis at Romeos Family Restaurant,
and all the other places where we ate something :)



*Note: The sausages were very good and would rate with the top 10% of sausages in South Africa. We are thus not inferring that all South African sausages are good.

**Note: The food in China was really amazing but also very different  from what we were used too. We cannot rightly call it similar as we do here but by no means do we imply less tasty.