A week ago, I had the opportunity to spend a weekend on Crete for a wedding. Let me tell you it was one fun (and full of food) wedding and the weather was actually quite nice for the season – even if the actual day of the wedding was rainy. If you haven’t been to one, Greek weddings are full of traditions and what better place to show that than on Crete? Getting away from the cities and living as a local on a small village can give you clues about how a wedding is considered a community thing and everyone (and I mean everyone) gets involved. More or less weddings require community involvement in every part of Greece, but with different traditions.
Just so you know, a Greek wedding is not really like what you’ve seen at “My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding”. In a sense it is more than that; it is not only about the couple or the relatives or friends of the couple. It is also about coming together, sharing the joy, eating, drinking and dancing. Seriously you haven’t eaten food until you’ve been to a wedding! We had several hot starters, a huge salad, mains and a chocolatey dessert with ice cream, along with several alcoholic drinks and even whiskey and vodka. At the same time, the band was playing Cretan music and everyone was dancing. I’ve been to a couple Cretan weddings before – albeit not on the actual island – so everything that happened there wasn’t surprising to me.
But what I’ve wanted to talk to you about is the food (not during the celebration, but on the day we were free to explore). After Friday, the day of the wedding, we had Saturday free, so we took the car from Heraklion and drove to Rethymno. The trip is about an hour and a half, so the distance is not that terrible. Rethymno is very beautiful with perfect sea views and a lovely lighthouse at the old Venetian harbour. Built around the 1830s, this lighthouse still stands tall and offers a perfect view of the harbour. However if you are looking to eat, I have the perfect place just for you!
Just 28km away from Rethymno, you can find a little gem tucked away within the mountains in the region, called Taverna Iliomanolis. The first thing you will notice is that after sitting down, you are invited straight to the kitchen, where you can see what’s on offer and order accordingly. Everything is spotless, even the saucepans and their covers are squeaky clean and you can easily choose whatever you want! The other thing that we learned is that the people who have the taverna grow their own vegetables, they also produce their own meat and only source beef elsewhere. Being a family business, I think using their own produce is very important (and inspiring) for other traditional tavernas and restaurants in Greece.
Being predominantly meat-eating (the Cretan cuisine), almost all of the mains displayed in the kitchen were meat! Cooked to a perfection, there was chicken with sauce, beef and lamb, however we decided to be different and chose two mains, cuttlefish with fennel and snails cooked with tomato. Cooked snails is a wonderful Greek dish that I love and is also a local delicacy on Crete. We also had some tzatziki, a dish of pickled artichokes, boiled greens, along with two types of cheese, called myzithra; sweet myzithra and hard one that looked (and tasted) like gruyere. Finally we had fried pleurotus mushrooms that were unbelievably tasty and light, without even smelling like fried flour! I think this is what I enjoyed the most, after my snails that is. The fried mushrooms were absolutely delish!
Taverna Iliomanolis is really worth visiting, not only because of the food (and trust me the food was mouthwatering, warm and – probably most important of all – freshly made!), but also because you can experience first-hand what a Cretan welcome really means! The people on the island are kind and inviting, exactly what you need to make yourself feel utterly welcome and really enjoy your holiday! Of course the owners of Iliomanolis do not fall far from that! They are the same sort of people as all the other Cretans, they are quick to start a conversation with you and make jokes with you, as wlll as win you over with their amazing food!
After we filled ourselves with all the mains and sides, they also brought us a little bottle of tsikoudia, which was satisfyingly chilled and full of aromas, and dessert! Our dessert was mosaiko, which is basically chocolate and biscuits combined. It was pure heaven! Mosaiko was also served with some dried fruit, which were oh-so sweet! Overall our lunch was perfect and (I will dare describe it as such) our home-cooked meal was as delicious as you can imagine! Oh and the last thing that sealed the dea? We only paid €26! After everything we had ordered (and we were really full) to only pay €26, I believe that was out of this world! So if you are ever near Rethymno, do not hesitate to go to Taverna Iliomanolis, you will just not regret it!
If you are in Heraklion and want to grab a coffee and a light dessert, then Mare Coffee Bar and Food is the best for you! Even if we were full from lunch, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go there, as this restaurant and bar is right on the coast, also offering a great view of the fortress. It has a big space and lots of tables, which – thankfully – weren’t full of people, but I can imagine it will be the opposite at the peak of summer. As soon as we sank down on the comfortable chairs, that was it! We didn’t want to get up anytime soon!
After all the heavy eating we did the previous day and even some hours before at the Taverna Iliomanolis, we were ready for a light dessert! What’s the problem?! We wanted to eat some more! So I had a millefeuille and a non-alcoholic mojito and my boyfriend had a tiramisu and a freddo cappuccino. Both of these desserts were (again) freshly made and gigantic in size! Honestly I ate 3/4 of my portion and was pleasantly full! It was creamy and very rich, while the puff pastry inbetween was thick and crisp. My boyfriend’s tiramisu was also rich, but still almost as nice as mine, bordering more on cake than anything else. I still think mine was better, as I am partial to millefeuille. Our drinks were nicely cool, so overall I was very satisfied with everything. The night was balmy, the view was amazing and the staff were very friendly, so I’d recommend Mare to anyone looking for a nice restaurant in Heraklion. I’d also want to try the Cretan breakfast, as it sounds delicious, with apaki (smoked pork meat), galomyzithra (soft white Cretan cheese) and handmade cheese pies! Anyone hungry yet?
If you have a couple days of vacation, these two places in Crete come on top of the list! Enjoy the food, the sunshine and the people and recharge for the season ahead!
Till next time,