Tucking into a selection of small dishes is our preferred way of enjoying a pot-pourri of local flavours at the one sitting. In Spain we order tapas, in Portugal it's petiscos. In Greece our taste buds get excited at the prospect of mezes, a term derived from 'mazze', the Persian word for snacks. Exploring the west of Crete we reacquainted ourselves with old favourites as well as trying some local specialities.
Our arrival at the Elia Hotel near Ano Vouves was idyllic. The sky was intense Greek blue, the sun warming and the hotel a charmer. Manager Jo welcomed us with a lunch which included dakos salad - a rusk bread topped with sweet tomatoes and creamy myzithra cheese drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with aromatic herbs. Accompanied by frosty Alfa beers it was enough to have me humming Lou Reed's Perfect Day.
When I think of calamari I visualise myself tucking into tender squid coated with crispy batter in a rustic taverna overlooking a picturesque harbour where bright blue boats bob gently on crystalline seas. Those were exactly the ingredients we found at Taverna Captain Nikolas, a Cretan institution located beside the golden sands of Falassarna Beach, a 2-kilometre stroll from the Panorama Hotel.
Two things surprised at the Botanical Park and Gardens of Crete. The first was just how interesting, quirky and different the gardens were. The second was the quality of the food at the attached restaurant which specialises in Cretan dishes made with herbs, fruit and vegetables from the gardens. A stand-out meze was marathopita, a savoury pitta-like pancake stuffed with fennel and wild horta (greens). It's a dish whose flavours encapsulate Crete's hinterland, making the gardens in the mountains the perfect location to try it.
For me, tzatziki is the Greek dish that launched a thousand diets. I can't resist dipping warm pitta into this fresh, feel-good dip consisting of Greek yoghurt, mint, cucumber and garlic. I don't associate tzatziki with any particular place or restaurant as I tend to order it in every taverna I go into. It's simply a meze must.
I made the serious mistake of not trying apakia until my last day on Crete where it was one of the mezes we ordered at Tamam in Chania. Apakia is pork marinated in wine vinegar which is then smoked and seasoned with spices and wild herbs; as delectable a pork dish as I've eaten in a long time. Whether the atmospheric surroundings subliminally intensified the flavour – Tamam was built as a Venetian bath house in the 15th century – I won't know till I try it again somewhere different.