The Quality Label of Cretan Cuisine is being awarded to restaurants which offer traditional Cretan dishes, use only local ingredients and cook exclusively with olive oil.
The famous Seven Countries scientific study, started in 1960, discovered that the Cretan Diet was one of the healthiest in the world with extra-virgin olive oil making a key contribution to low mortality rates. Times change, however, and as people started to migrate to the towns, the old lifestyle began to disappear, along with the health benefits. Fortunately the Cretan government has realised that it has to do something before it’s too late and, this year, set up an organization, the Cretan Quality Agreement, to promote traditional food both in the home and in restaurants. This is good news for both locals and tourists alike.
So far just nine restaurants have been certified but there are over a hundred in the pipeline. To qualify at least two thirds of their dishes must be traditional Cretan, the ingredients must be local, except for those not produced on the island, and they can only use virgin olive oil for cooking, including frying. It’s goodbye to greasy kebabs and reheated Moussaka, and hello to wild greens, local cheese, whole grain pulses, fresh fruit and, above all, extra virgin olive oil.
I sampled two of the restaurants on the list, Panakron and Botanical Park. Both nestle in the foothills of the mountains, in surroundings of extra-ordinary natural beauty, and both serve up lashings of greens, mashed fava beans, the best extra virgin olive oil, home made yoghurt and very little meat. This is definitely Cretan, rather than Greek cooking and I went on to visit other restaurants waiting to be certified, just to confirm their authenticity.
Oinopoieio, in Chania, is similar but Olive + Mint, in Herakalion, offers a more refined, almost nouvelle cuisine, take on the same dishes . The Cretan diet is highly distinctive and the certification system is to be welcomed. It’s great that traditional dishes are making their comeback, though I must say, that sometimes the quantities did defeat me. Now it’s me who needs a diet, Cretan or otherwise.