In a world where kitchens of all forms, whether domestic or professional, are the new every day background, there is plenty of space and a golden opportunity to talk about a hidden gem. Cretan cuisine. However in order to understand any cuisine you need first to get closer to the culture it comes from. Ingredients more or less travel around the world and are widely available in every developed market. International flavorful products travel all around and offer a wide variety of choices. In this international setting of flavors is it the product it self that distinguishes every cuisine it is used in, or is it the cultural context as it combines with the flavors?
Cretan cuisine uses a variety of products that are common not only around Greece, bu all around the Mediterranean. Tomatoes, cucumbers, olive oil, oregano, grapes, herbs and other kinds of wonderful products are protagonists in the culinary world of Crete. But if this is the case what is it that makes the culinary world of Cretan Cuisine so diverse and different not just from the rest of Greece, but the rest of the world as well?
1) Filtered Through History
A degustation walk of any culinary (or otherwise) explorer around any kitchen in Crete will highlight immediately the lack of sea food. Despite the fact that Crete is an island right in the middle of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea it has very small amounts of sea food in its daily diet. People of Crete are people that turn their attention towards the mountains in their search for flavors. This can be argued is the result of
a) over 8 different conquerors have occupied the island for centuries driving people to search a steady occupation and food provider away from ports
b) traditionally (from Minoan times) fishing was done on shallow waters. Even the naval mega power of the time based its economy on trading products cultivated in rural areas of Crete.
2) Simplicity is the Essence
Simplicity holds the key to the culinary magnificence of the island. Cretan diet is based on simple flavors and the availability of products in every season. Not so long ago it was common sense not to eat tomatoes on winter. Even today there is a common buyer sense on the products consumed. Customers know that the consumption of out of season products such as (raisins in May) were the result of either extreme reserves or industrialization. Therefore it is highly unlikely you will find a Greek Salad in any house kitchen in January. And tomatoes are just one example. There are several similar examples which we will examine in the preservation techniques on a later stage.
3) Olive Oil
The cradle and foundation upon everything is based is the one and only Olive Oil. There is nothing more sacred, more important, more foundational, more elementary, more catholic in the Cretan Diet and Cuisine other than Olive Oil. The olive tree and all of its products have been of incomparable value to Greeks in general. Olive oil is the one product that is never out of any recipe. This is how you cook, how you fry, boil, bake, roast, slow cook name it. Mostly though it is used raw. Straight after its extraction from the fruit. In its original and most nutritious form it is olive oil that provided the essential fat in a complete meal. Most importantly though it is olive oil that puts everything in place and creates a sense of belonging, highlights the beauty of simplicity and underlines the majesty of history.
Having the above three concepts in mind we can start our journey to the extraordinary Cretan Diet and Cuisine. Each time we come across a recipe, a product, an culinary event or a kitchen household we will try and approach it with one eye in history, one eye in culture, and a pallet ready to explore new flavors.