Modern Mediterranean dishes can trace back their origins all the way to the simple array of ingredients originally belonging to the Cretan diet. Abundant greens, rigorously seasonal cheeses, not a lot of meat, and the secret key to bind all those together with harmony and taste, local extra virgin olive oil.
Mountain herbs, a bunch of spices, and thyme honey, add to the authenticity of the local table producing stunning results.
The city of Chania, located on the northwestern coast of the island is a magnificent place to start a gastronomic journey on Crete. Not only will you be able to enjoy the pleasures of the native delicacies, but you will also be able to discover what new chefs are doing with those plain ingredients.
Cretan Food: Freshness and Tradition
Some of the staples of the Cretan cuisine go as far back as the Bronze Age, the times when the Minoan civilization was already milling olives and pressing grapes to produce some of the first wines in the world. Together with cereals and pulses, olive oil and wine can be traced on the island as far as the 3000 BC.
Yet, cultural influences on the local gastronomy don’t just end up there. The island has been conquered and ruled by different civilizations. Over four hundred years of Venetian occupation and almost three hundred years of Turkish rule have also left their traces in the local cuisine though cakes, pies, and stuffed vegetables.
The Saracens left their mark with their spices, and their coffee. While the lesser-known Jewish community that lived in the city of Chania also left a trace with some of the spoon sweets they used to share during the High Holidays.
Each and every one of those foreign characteristics mix and match with the local culinary traditions. And today, some of the local restaurants go even further, adding a touch of innovation with edgier cooking techniques. These are some of the local restaurants which are now serving tradition and innovation right on the same plate with outstanding results
Five Remarkable Restaurants in Chania, Crete
Like many newly opened restaurants, Salis entered Chania’s food panorama with a proposal that blends the freshness of local produce and cutting-edge combinations of flavors.
With a “from farm to fork” philosophy, Salis sources every ingredient from the local territory, some of them coming directly from their own farm.
And when it comes to wine, Salis is not only serving labels from their own winery, but is owner of one of Greece’s price-winning wine lists.
This restaurant is in the romantic setting of the Venetian Arsenals, and their deconstructed pastitsio is one of the local musts.
Akti Enoseos 3, New Marina Venetian Arsenals (Neoria), Chania, Crete
I’m not sure whether is its exclusive atmosphere, its limited sitting availability, or the most magnificent dishes I’ve ever tried that put Serenissima among my top choices to eat in Chania.
Genuine wit and a refined hand in French cuisine put Chef Iosif Petrof among the most respected players of the Cretan cooking game. He wisely combines international cooking techniques with Iocal ingredients, changing their menu every few weeks in a ludic experiment of surprise and curiosity.
Set in the heart of the Venetian quarter, in one of Chania’s oldest mansions, Serenissima stands out as one of Crete’s best restaurants.
Skoufon 4, Old Town, Chania, Crete
The Five opened its doors a little more than a year ago and has soon turned into a favorite place to go for a more relaxed atmosphere right by the sea.
In the heart of the neighborhood of Nea Chora, a few steps away from Chania’s Venetian Harbor, The Five is the brain-child of a creative sommelier who is willing to surprise.
Abundant use of fish and seafood with a modern twist is paired with a magnificent wine list made both of local and international labels. The best surprise? Their Grilled Octopus served with sun-dried tomato pesto.
Akti Papanikoli 15, Nea Chora, Chania, Crete
One of Chania’s best-known proposals can be found in the mysterious scenario of the abandoned tanneries not far from where you’ll stay in the old town.
There’s a long waiting-list to seat and dine with your feet on the sand while the sun is setting behind the Egyptian lighthouse of Chania.
At Thalassino Ageri, you can even get inside the kitchen, discuss with the staff your fish of choice, and wait for it to be served on your table just a few minutes after.
Probably the most romantic setting in town, Thalassino Ageri is a unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.
Vivilaki 35, Tabakaria, Halepa, Chania, Crete
Middle eastern foods and native ingredients produce the explosive combination of flavors and colors you can enjoy in Tamam, also in the alleys of the Old Town.
Cretan dishes with Turkish roots are served in an old hammam, a public Turkish bath not far from the Venetian Harbor.
Here, local wines such as the reds Liatiko or Kotsifali are the base to produce unique stews. Fresh vegetables and exotic spices, instead, get transformed into mouthwatering hummus, dips, and purees.
Their star dish is Hünkar Beğendi, a tender beef stew made with Cretan Kotsifali wine and tomato sauce with aubergine puree.
Zampeliou 51, Old Town, Chania, Crete
About Gabi Ancarola
Gabi is the writer behind the Crete travel blog The Tiny Book. A long-time expat, she moved to Crete a few years ago to show the best of the island to first-time visitors. Every summer, hosts gastronomic tours in Chania, and she has recently published her second travel guide. She also talks about Crete on her Facebook group.