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If you land by plane via either Chania or Heraklion Airport, you will immediately know when you get off that you are in Greece. However, this certainty gets fine cracks at the latest at the first meeting with Cretan cuisine and become more and more clear the deeper you dive into them. You understand that you are apparently in Greece, but practically in the cultural and above all culinary world called Crete.
At first glance, Greek and Cretan cuisine are not so different. Of course, on Crete you get the typical Greek dishes that are also popular in the rest of the world, such as gyros, souvlaki, tzatziki, keftedes or moussaka. Add fresh fish, mussels, shrimp or calamari. Nor will there be any missing extra virgin, cold-pressed olive oil, juicy Kalamata olives or the mildly spicy sheep's cheese feta, just like that or in the typical Greek salad - accompanied by the freshly baked bread, which simply belongs to it. Last but not least, the well-known Retsina can be found almost everywhere on the drinks menu, whose resinous aftertaste is part of the Greek holiday for many.
Yes, enough of the similarities. Because if you are curious and eager enough to experiment, you will not stop at these pan-Greek spices. You will continue to leaf through the menu and - depending on whether you are in a restaurant or in a typical tavern - will discover quite a few local specialties with mysterious names. These include, among many others, the idiosyncratic stew "Stifado" seasoned with cinnamon, the pastry "Chaniotiko Bouréki" prepared in a wood-fired oven, which is made from zucchini, potatoes and the creamy cheese Mizithra or the "Tiropitakia", which means small dumplings filled with the local Myzithra soft cheese, baked and doused with Cretan thyme honey.
The probability is high that the curious visitor will come across a dish called "Tsigariastó" made from lamb or goat meat during his foray through the Cretan cuisine. It is one of those braised oven dishes for which Crete is widely known. The dish is so typical of the island and tasty that it is presented in detail. Not by chance. Because even if you have tried all sorts of Cretan specialties - without Tsigariasto the impression of the traditional Cretan cuisine is only incomplete.
Tsigariastó is available with lamb or goat meat. The meat of young goats is one of the Cretan specialties. After all, goats, along with sheep, wine and olives, are among the most important agricultural goods on the island. But this also leads to traffic obstacles. Again and again, the patience of motorists is tested by herds of goats or sheep on the roads. By the way, if you make a trekking trip to the mountains, you will always encounter smaller herds of goats. The probability is high that these are the famous Kri-kri wild goats, which were introduced from Persia thousands of years ago. But even the domesticated animals usually grow up outdoors. Exercise, fresh air and good food - the goat meat tastes like it and is preferably used as the main ingredient for the famous stew. Admittedly, Tsigariastó is not a gourmet dish. However, if you are looking for the fine star cuisine, you are wrong in Crete anyway. After all, the island cuisine does not score with refinement, but through the use of a few ingredients in excellent quality. The passionate preparation in combination with the high-quality ingredients leads to a taste explosion that still reverberates even if you have got off the plane again at your home airport.
For a particularly good result you need particularly good ingredients. The following recipe for tsigariastó based on either goat or lamb is designed for 4 people. If you want to cook it for your “paréa”, as the accompanying group of friends and family on Crete is called, you can adapt the specified amount to the number of people. As a side dish fit oven potatoes, the preparation of which is attached at the bottom.
Preparation: Wash the portioned meat and pat dry. Heat the olive oil in a wide, heavy pot or casserole and add the chopped onions and possibly the bay leaves. After a while, reduce the heat and fry the pieces of meat from all sides until they are lightly browned. Only then salt and pepper. After the lemon juice and/or white wine have been added, let it stew covered at level 2 (of 9) for 1.5 to 2 hours. The side dish is just as simple. Put the 6 to 8 peeled potatoes in quarters or eighths and put in a large bowl. Season with salt and oregano and mix the juice of 1 orange and lemon each and a little olive oil. Then put in the oven for 45 minutes at 180 degrees. This is Cretan cuisine at its best. Enjoy your meal! Kali Orexi!