A simple search of the word “food” on Google will provide you will over 10 billion results in 0,89 seconds. That is an astounding number. People with access to modern technology and to a simple internet connection will either upload or look for something related to food. Whether it is a recipe, or a health claim on food, or a fun fact, we all look for information that will enrich our dietary habits.
Yet in an era of abundance and accessibility, we find ourselves with loads of information yet with little wisdom and critical thinking. How is it possible, in an era where food is available at all times, regardless of season or geographical location, to raise questions about the health benefits of our dietary models, the long term effect of the consumption of different types of food, or the legitimacy of the people and/or systems that supply our food. We have managed create such doubts about our food consumption patterns that we need to look back to the “old ways” of living in order to find what actually worked in our diets and kept us alive without having an aggressive and dangerous effect on us.
Perhaps these are questions that are difficult to be answered within a few sentences, but these questions allow us to see the benefits and wide variety of choices that existed in dietary models that are neither ancient nor inaccessible in some remote part of the world. One such diet is the Cretan Diet.
The diet of the people of Crete is the epitome of balance between an active life, availability and a complete diet. Since antiquity, the people of Crete have been consuming products immediately available to them and up until the recent past little to no change has been taken place into their everyday dietary habits. Even when change was taking place it was the result of a very slow process that demanded the incorporation of new products into the already existing cuisine. Potatoes, for example, were incorporated into the local cuisine as part of already existing dishes such as snails, or fennel.
We sincerely hope to be able to highlight the depth and nutritional value of the Cretan Diet as we progress, but let us first highlight why Crete and the food consumed by its people is worth looking at:
It is obvious that seasonality is a characteristic that all cultures and all cuisines try to emphasize and underline, yet with Crete it is a way of life, rather than a call to action. Even those not so much into food know that there are certain food products that grow at certain times of the year and it is somewhat odd to demand them at different times. They simply will not taste as they should, nor will they be produced in a non-aggressive manner. Artichokes, for example, is a spring food product and it not expected to be consumed at any other time of the year. If one finds artichoke in July it means the cook has managed to freeze some during their peak in April. Seasonality ensures the consumption and circulation of fresh products in the markets. The fact the most people understand seasonality in Crete obliges the market to offer products that are perfect for the right time of the year.
- CULTURAL BLENDING
Seasonality has a deeper and more challenging aspect to it when it comes to the Food in Crete. Cultural elements are evident in every dimension of the cuisine one can come across the island. Religious beliefs are one example that highlights the dynamics of cultural elements into shaping dietary models. In the Orthodox Church, there are over 120 days of lent or fasting (40 days for Christmas, 50 days for Easter, 15 days in August + another 10 days scattered around the year). People in the very recent past (until 20 years ago) tended to follow the
fasting days. During these days meat is forbidden, the consumption of dairy was very little and there were certain days that even olive oil was not consumed. It is easy to imagine the detox of the body when the food intake is limited to pulses, vegetables and cereals. It also important that these cultural elements brought people together which created social coherence and unity.
- EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
Everything starts and ends with Olive Oil in Crete. There is no house without it. There is no recipe that does not use Extra Virgin Olive Oil as the basis upon which the entire recipe is developed. From baking to stewing, to grilling, to frying the basic fat upon the dish is structured is Olive Oil. Now it is easy for one to imagine the benefits of one’s health and body when part of the weekly diet is structured with a superfood such as olive oil, wild greens and a bit of cheese. Just to put the consumption of Olive Oil in perspective, an average family of 4 in Crete will consume around 120 kilos of Olive Oil per person per year.
By default, the result that ends up on a dish that is inspired by Crete can only be a simple dish with stunning flavors, yet few ingredients. The pot on the fire the is slow-cooked is attended with the simple aim to bring out flavors without damaging the ingredients. A bit of salt, a bit of pepper, some herbs and olive oil will do the trick. No spices, no complicated techniques, no fancy executions. Any lady that knows how to run her kitchen will tell you “all I need is Olive Oil and an Onion. I will find something to make with that”. Taking into consideration the wealth of the Cretan landscape this is very believable.
It is very easy to lose track and keep writing about the Cretan Diet and its depth. For us in Tasting Crete it is not only a way of life but also a legacy we need to pass on and spread outside the borders of our home. Thus we invite all of you to take on this culinary journey that will unfold several aspects of Crete and its people.