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Cretan Diet is the Recipe for a Long Life

May 14, 2010 Rupert Parker
London’s Hotel Rafayel hosts a traditional Cretan lunch from the Balcony restaurant in Sitia, to demonstrate that Greek food can be both tasty and healthy.

At 160 miles long and 40 miles wide, Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands. A research study begun in 1960 indicates that its inhabitants have exceptionally low rates of heart disease and cancer. They also seem to live longer. In 1991, thirty one years after the beginning of the study, the University of Crete returned to the group, and found about 50% were still alive as opposed to a similar group in Finland where there wasn’t a single survivor.

The secret seems to be their classic Mediterranean diet of olives, olive oil, greens, fruit, legumes and bread and, to a lesser extent, cheese, milk, eggs, fish and a small amount of red wine. Yogurt is important and, rather than refined sugar, honey and grape juice syrup are used as natural sweeteners. Honey also acts as a natural antiseptic.

Healthy Diet Still Exists in the Far East of Crete

Around 80 miles east of the capital, Heraklion, the district of Sitia is far removed from the mass tourism that has taken over the rest of the island. No drunken British revelers here, instead unspoilt sandy beaches, crystal clear sea and, best of all, authentic Cretan cooking with local wines, organic food and stunning olive oil. This is the place to go to savour their heathy diet at first hand.
London’s Opportunity to Sample Dishes from Sitia’s Balcony Restaurant

At the Hotel Rafayel, chef Tonya Karandinou of the Balcony restaurant in Sitia served up a stunning lunch, using traditional ingredients, and paired the food with wines from the region. The starters were a meal in themselves:

  • Fava, a split pea dip
  • Olive paste
  • Dakos, barley rusks topped with tomatoes and Mizithra cheese
  • Meat balls
  • Stuffed vine leaves
  • Aubergine salad
  • Greek salad

The main courses were equally satisfying:

  • Cuttlefish in wine with spinach and rice
  • Oven baked lamb with potatoes and artichoke hearts
  • Home made Cretan pasta with chargrilled aubergines, capers and olives
  • Spinach with cheese


  • Cretan yoghurt with honey, dried fruits and nuts
  • Kalitsounia, sweet cheese pastries
  • Xerotigana, round honey sweets

No Moussaka or Kebab Here

This was good hearty cooking using the finest Cretan ingredients to great effect. Old favourites like Meat Balls and Stuffed Vine Leaves, subtly flavoured with local herbs, took on a new dimension, and the Cuttlefish was tasty and tender. Greek Yoghurt is justly famous, but the Cretan version coupled with dried fruit and nuts, made an outstanding desert. A meal like this is an excellent taster of what the Sitia region has to offer. It’s gradually opening up to tourism but it might be wise to get there sooner rather later, before the crowds arrive. With food like this it’s definitely worth a visit and it’s also good for your health.

Copyright Rupert Parker.

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