THE GREAT AMERICAN VACATION
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Cretans tend to take their meals seriously, and like to sit down in a taverna to a full meal. Family-run tavernas take pride in serving Cretan cooking, and a number of the better restaurants in cities now also stress Cretan produce and traditional dishes. One way to dine casually is to sample the mezedes served at some bars and tavernas. These often include such Cretan specialties as trypopita
(cheese-filled pastry), and a selection of cheeses: Cretan graviera, a hard, smooth cheese, is a blend of pasteurized sheep's and goat's milk that resembles Emmentaler in flavor and texture—not too sharp, but with a strong, distinctive flavor; and mizythra (a creamy white cheese). As main courses, Cretans enjoy grilled meat, generally lamb and pork, but there is also plenty of fresh fish. Mezedes and main courses are usually shared from large platters placed in the center of the table.
Cretan olive oil is famous throughout Greece; it's heavier and richer than other varieties. The island's wines are special: look for Boutari Kritikos, a crisp white; and Minos Palace, a smooth red. Make sure you try the tsikouthia (also known as raki), the Cretan firewater made from fermented grape skins, which is drunk at any hour, often accompanied by a dish of raisins or walnuts drenched in honey. Restaurants often offer raki, along with a sweet, free of charge at the end of a meal.
Lunch is generally served from 1 to 3 or so. Dinner is an event here, as it is elsewhere in Greece, and is usually served late; in fact, when non-Greeks are finishing up around 10:30 or so, locals usually begin arriving.