Kissamos locals, as do all Cretans, are traditionally gourmand and enjoy good, quality food. Their land’s trademark produce is the cornerstone of Mediterranean Diet. Local cuisine is, at its foundation, indigenous and the rule of thumb is the use of olive oil on every dish, with tomato and oregano assuming starring roles. The dietary habits of today’s locals are close to those in ancient times, something that is documented by inscriptions on Linear B tablets regarding cheese, olive oil, honey, wine, herbs and spices, meats and grain. Its basic features are simplicity, sparsity, making use of local and seasonal produce, all cooked with imaginative variation.

No matter where you land on Crete, be it high or low land, one thing sure catches the eye: endless olive groves. Their presence dominates the scenery since Minoan times and there are findings to confirm this, as well as testimonies such as Homer’s, who dubbed olive oil as ‘liquid gold’, and Hippocrates’, who documented its healing power. Olives, and their outcome oil, is the building block of Kissamos’ diet, as it is used on most dishes instead of butter or other types of oil. It is the most powerful proven antioxidant in nature and a unique product, as according to research, Cretan olives and their produce contain most of the antioxidant substances, making them a priceless super-food.

Dairy products play a major part in Kissamos’ diet, are an important source of calcium and although high consumption may cause high cholesterol, it appears that Cretan diet model combinations eventually balance things out and keep the human body in good health. Herding produce is based mostly on free range grazing for goats, sheep and a few cows, allowing them to roam freely and feed on wild grass and a slew of local flora plants. Since mythical times there is mention of the island’s dairy produce in the legend of god Zeus nursed by Amalthea the goat after being born in a Cretan cave. The diversity of produce consolidates the fact that the locals live exclusively off their land:

Anthotyros cheese: it is made of sheep’s and goat’s milk, which is added to the whey off the making of a different kind of cheese, then heated to give an almost skimmed, soft fresh cheese of mild flavour.

Galomizithra cheese: made with the simple cheese-making process, namely the ‘cutting’ (fermentation) of milk, which through natural acidification transforms into a soft, white cheese. Tasty and mild in flavour, with a strong sour touch.

Cretan Graviera cheese: made mostly of sheep’s milk, rich in flavour with a light salty touch, buttery texture and pleasant milky aroma. It is consumed plain, with fruit, honey, bread, spread on pitas or fried (saganaki).

Malakeri mizithra or tyromalama cheese: brings Italian mozzarella to mind; a soft, unsalted cheese made of the first springtime sheep’s milk. Being malleable it is used roasted, almost gummy-like form, on pitas and the classic meat-cake of Chania, which contains lamb meat and an assortment of other local cheeses.

Xinomizithra cheese: the left-over milk from curdling the graviera is mixed with fresh sheep’s or goat’s milk and the outcome is a white, soft and creamy cheese.

Pichtogalo of Chania: yoghurt-like in texture and a slight subacid flavour. It is a direct outcome of milk. Consumed either plain or preferably as a filling for pies.

Staka and staka butter: ‘tsipa’ (namely, the crust of goat’s and sheep’s mixed milk) is stirred for a long time over low fire together with flour and salt. What rises to the surface is staka butter while the rest is staka.

Bread, in all its forms and shapes, and rusks are the basis of both the diets of Kissamos and Crete. There is a steady produce of traditional bread products ever since humans inhabited this land, of high nutritional value, made from pure, quality materials off the Cretan land, like olive oil, wheat, carob and more.

The rusk, ‘paximadi’ in Greek, said to be named after Paxamas, an ancient chef, who accidentally came about its making. In essence, this is a double baked bread, which once baked makes bread and by the second time it dehydrates completely. It is more beneficiary than other similar products, like, for instance, toasted bread, because it is more digestible, relieves constipation, is of high nutritional value, can be consumed by people with diabetes, is an excellent protein source and helps reducing body weight. Perennial bread makers those Cretans, they have taken their craft to a whole new level by producing a great variety of rusks, made from rye, wheat, eptazyma (=kneaded seven times over) or whole grain, corn flour, carob, oat or scented with assorted herbs and spices.

Meat consumption has always been low in Kissamos diet and limited to a few times per month and medium-sized portions while poultry and fish made it to the table every week. This periodicity achieves a diet of low saturated fats and at the same time the wide use of olive oil grants a high fat content, a combination that constitutes Cretan diet a healthy model of longevity. Lamb, goat or game meat are most common. A historic alternative protein source to counteract meat has always been Crete’s both the plethora of fish and scrumptious local dairy products, now renowned all over Europe.

The island of Crete, according to research, is the birthplace of winemaking. Wine consumption is inextricably linked to local traditional religious and social events and its history is lost in the haze of time. Cretans rarely drink alone; wine requires conversation, chit-chat, company and partying, and is linked to local society relationships, as well as culture, which commands its use at lunch or dinner. Vineyards are scattered across the region, with winemakers running their businesses of producing wines of exquisite quality and attracting each year thousands of visitors.

The people of Crete make good use of the fruit literally brimming far and wide. Vegetables, greens, wild greens, herbs, fruit and legumes of all sorts, are cooked by locals in every imaginable way. Thus, their dishes are diverse and as organic, nutritious and tasty as possible.

Crete is blessed with sunshine for the most part of the year resulting in a continuous efflorescence. Herbs, aromatic plants and trees provide food for the bees, which produce an endless flow of renowned Cretan honey. Within the natural setting of the Kissamos region exists a rare biodiversity and high percentage of endemic growth, making local honey a produce of pure, top quality and beneficiary to the human body. Honey is used in various recipes, be it beverages, salads, appetisers, main courses and, of course, sweets. Rakomelo, honey pie and xerotigano are but a classic few.

Food combinations are endless and evolving as time goes by. Some of the trademark recipes of local cuisine are listed below, so that everyone gets a taste of Kissamos.

Eggs with staka: fried eggs with olive oil or staka butter, salt, pepper and staka.

Lamb ‘tsigariasto’: lamb or goat casserole with onion, olive oil, wine and spices. Served with ‘ofti’ (ember roasted with some herbs) potatoes.

Zucchini blossoms: zucchini blossoms stuffed with tomato, onion, herbs, rice and grated zucchini.

Xerotigano: the Cretan sweet of joy, which is offered at all joyous events such as weddings, fairs and more. This is dough fried in olive oil and then caramelised in thyme honey. Consumed plain, with almonds, sesame seeds, yoghurt, cheese, even ice cream. The xerotigano of the Simadirakis family is famous in the area for its traditional recipe.

Plakovrasto of Kissamos: this is a variation of the well-known ‘Kakavia’ (=fish soup), which consists of layers of onion, tomato, fish and potato, using the broth they were cooked in as gravy.

Dakos: a famous Cretan savoury with tomato with olive oil, herbs and local mizithra layered atop moist rusks.

Hochlioi (=snails) with broad beans: simmered snails with onion, olive oil, tomato, broad beans and herbs.