A journey to Crete through its artists and the famous Cretan diet

In our new article we will visit Crete through the artists that were born there, painting, literature, poetry, music, dance, and also through its food, the famous Cretan diet. Our companion on this trip will be the book Εδεσματολόγιον Κρήτης by Nantia Sarantopoulou and Giannis Sarantopoulos published by Savalas Publishers, from which we will prepare sfakianes pites, Sfakia pies with sour mizithra cheese and honey.

Sfakianes pites with sour mizithra cheese and honey!

One of the most important Greek painters, El Greco or Dominikos Theotokopoulos was born in Crete. As we read in Εδεσματολόγιον Κρήτης, Dominikos Theotokopoulos was probably born in 1541 in Chandakas, today’s Heraklion in Crete, during Venetian rule. The name he bake famous with, El Greco, means “the Greek”. He was a painter, sculptor and architect and most of his artworks were created in Spain and Italy.

El Greco, View of Toledo (1598-99) (source)

He begun his work as an icon painter in Crete, which was then part of the Venetian territory. In Crete at that time circulated artworks by artists of the Renaissance, from which he got influenced. Many researchers also emphasize the importance of Byzantine elements in his works.

El Greco, Madonna and Child with Saint Martina and Saint Agnes (1597-99) (source)

In Crete lived Michael Damaskinos. Influenced by the Italian art of the times, he left a rich corpus of artworks which influenced the following generations. After the Fall of Constantinople the center of Byzantine art moved, and Byzantine art flourished in Crete. The Cretan School played a primary role until the occupation of the island by the Turks in 1669.

Michael Damaskinos, The last supper (1585-91), from the book Εδεσματολόγιον Κρήτης by Savalas Publishers.

One of the most important Greek poets is originally from Crete… Odysseas Elytis or Odysseas Alepoudelis as his real name was, was born in 1911 in Heraklion, Crete. From 1930 he studied law in Athens and in 1935 he published his first poems. In 1979 he was awarded with the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Odysseas Elytis (source)

Another great writer, Nikos Kazantzakis, comes from Crete. On the website of the Kazantzakis Museum we read that Nikos Kazantzakis was born in Heraklion of the Turkish-occupied Crete. He studied law in Athens and later did postgraduate studies in Paris where he got influenced by the philosophers Bergson and Nietzsche. In 1956 he was awarded with the Peace Prize, and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature five times.

From the book Εδεσματολόγιον Κρήτης by Savalas Publishers.
Nikos Kazantzakis (source)

One of the main representatives of Cretan literature was Vitsentzos Kornaros, author of the narrative poem Erotokritos. In the book Εδεσματολόγιον Κρήτης we read that he was born in 1553 in Trapezounta, Sitia, where he lived until 1580, when he settled in Chandakas, today’s Heraklion.

Theofilos Hatzimihail, Ερωτόκριτος και Αρετούσα (1933) (source)

Nikos Xylouris has uniquely sung Erotokritos. He is the singer who has been connected with Crete more than anyone else. Nikos Xylouris was born in 1936 in Anogia, Mylopotamos, to a family with many lyricists, as we read in the book Εδεσματολόγιον Κρήτης. At the age of five his village was burned by the Germans and the family and the villagers were transferred to another village in the province of Mylopotamos, where they remained until the liberation of Crete.

Nikos Xylouris (source)

An important component of the tradition of Crete is its traditional dances. According to the book Εδεσματολόγιον Κρήτης each region has its dance: the west Crete has the Syrtos dance, Rethymno and Heraklion have the Sousta dance, east Crete has the Pentozalis dance and central Crete, ie Heraklion has the Maleviziotis dance.

At a Cretan feast…

We will end our trip through the art and tradition of Crete with a Cretan nakli, an oral narrative with fairytale elements that has its roots in the cafes of Crete from the time of Ottoman rule. By reading traditional stories one can identify elements of the past and make assumptions about how people’s lives were like in the old days, and what their habits, mentality and behavior were. For this reason, among other things, the rescue of oral histories and folk tales is of great importance.

A thousand trees

A man from Sfakia wanted a girl from the east Crete and asked her to marry him, but, unfortunately they didn’t give her to him. Then with the help of two of his friends, he stole her. Her family, though didn’t want to let her by any way live with the man from Sfakia, because they were under the impression that the man was poor. Then they remembered that they knew another man from Sfakia, whom the had trust in, and went to ask him what kind of a man was the one that stole their daughter. The man from Sfakia, who had the reputation of always telling the truth, told them:

-If he divides his fortune with his siblings, he will have a thousand trees.

They understood that this wasn’t a random man and that he had a good fortune, because in those villages, when someone says trees, he means olive trees. The man from Sfakia knew that they would understand that, but he also knew that he could tell the excuse of meaning cypress trees, which the man did indeed have. So, the wedding took place, and when the family realised that the trees were cypress trees, it was too late.

From the book Εδεσματολόγιον Κρήτης by Savalas Publishers
Vincent van Gogh, Road with cypress and star (1890) (source)

Of course, the important personalities who come from Crete and its tradition cannot fit in one article. However, because we got hungry, we will slowly head to our kitchen to make the Sfakia pies we promised.

But before we cook, we will say a few things about the world-famous Cretan diet. According to the professor of the Medical School of the University of Crete, mr. Antonis Kafatos, the Cretan diet of 1960 is the best medicine in promoting health and preventing disease. As we read in the book Εδεσματολόγιον Κρήτης, the well-known research of the “seven regions” that began in the 1940s showed that the healthiest people in the world live in Crete. The Cretan diet has its roots in antiquity and survived all the conquerors of the island.

From the book Εδεσματολόγιον Κρήτης by Savalas Publishers.

The Cretan diet included cereals, eggs, cheese, black bread, fruits, vegetables, legumes, olive oil, fish, chicken and red meat once a month. It was accompanied by daily exercise with manual work and walking. The Cretans also followed the fasts of the Orthodox Church, so they consumed more legumes and less meat. Thus, they managed to have a balanced, nutritious diet and as a result they had health and longevity.

For the pies we will prepare we will borrow a recipe from the book Έδεσματολόγιον Κρήτης by Savalas Publishers. Sfakia pies with sour mizithra cheese and honey, which in their simplicity bare the meaning of Cretan diet… And they are delicious too!

Sfakia pies

*We are translating the original recipe, as it is published in the book.


Sour mizithra cheese


As many pies as you want to make so many handfuls of flour we use. Make a hole in the flour, add a little salt and a little oil (we added a little water too) and knead until a soft dough is formed. Leave it for half an hour to “rest”, then divide it into balls and roll it out as much as a plate of coffee.

Place mizithra in the center of each pie (the ball of the mizithra must be the size of ball of dough). Pull the dough around and “close” it until the mizithra is covered, turn the pie upside down and roll it with a small rolling pin to the size of a small plate. Then cook the pies without oil in a non-stick pan. If you want, pour honey on top.

We rolled our doughs into small round sheets and placed a ball of sour mizithra in the center.
We covered the sour mizithra ball with the dough’s edges…
…we flipped the ball upside down and rolled it out slightly with the rolling pin, taking care not to tear the dough.
We cooked our pies on medium to high heat for two to three minutes on each side without oil in a non-stick pan -this way they also become healthier.
We made a nice pile of our Sfakia pies and drizzled honey on top. Then we devoured them!

Happy Creatan creations and enjoy everyone!

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