CRETE ISLAND - EATING CUSTOMS
Lunch is generally eaten at about 2.00pm and dinner no earlier than 9.00pm. This is why if you walk around looking for a restaurant patronized by the "locals" as a sign of quality, it is very likely to be deserted before 9.00pm. It is not unusual to arrive at a restaurant at midnight, especially in summer. Restaurants serving meals to tourists will of course serve food earlier (both at lunch and dinner) meaning that you can eat closer to the times that you might be accustomed to.
For Cretans, a meal is a social occasion and accordingly, food is ordered for the "table", not for the individuals. You order a bit of everything, spread it around the table, or more often cover the table with different dishes and everybody picks at everything. If or when more food is needed, more is ordered. There is also quite an element of status involved in the ordering and it is not uncommon for Greeks to order far too much, either to show off their status or show their generosity. This unfortunately leads to a fair amount of food being wasted. You can of course stick to the Western habit of not sharing food and order for each person but you will miss out on an enhanced eating experience.
Table manners are pretty lax. The main bad manner would possibly be ordering for yourself when in company.
Use of the fingers instead of forks and knives is very common. After all, food is there to be touched and eaten, not picked at. Eating meat (especially lamb or goat) with a fork and knife is considered a little silly because you are missing out on the most sensual part of the experience.
When pouring wine, don`t fill the glass to the brim, when drinking it, leave a little in your glass until it is being refilled.
As with ordering, paying a bill has a lot to do with offering hospitality. You rarely see Cretans sharing the payment of a meal (at least not in a way that could have been visible to others). One will pay for all and there is often a hefty argument about who will have the privilege of paying. As such, if you, a foreigner, are eating with Cretans you will be pretty hard put to foot the bill, unless you resort to sneaky ways such as paying the bill away from the table when no one is looking. Even this can lead to awkwardness because the traditional Cretan hospitality makes it almost a duty to act as the host to foreigners. Again here, Cretans know that our customs are different and that we sometimes share the cost of meals, but avoid asking for a separate bill for each and work out the share of the bill between yourselves: asking for separate bills is a little like shouting: `Look at us, we are incredibly mean and petty!` and that`s not really what you want to shout, is it?
Cretans find this splitting down of bills to be a deplorable habit and the Greeks have nicknamed this `Going German` (instead of the English `Going Dutch`). Speaking of the bill, one issue which most tourists find is not knowing how to appropriately tip. Check out our guide to Tipping in Greece
Small villages generally have one or two places where you can eat but it is pretty much an extension of the home kitchen. As such, do not expect much choice, if any. What you can be sure of is that what will be offered is freshly cooked, simple but tasty local food. It will also be cheap. When you get to such a place, don`t ask for the menu but ask what there is to eat today or if you cannot communicate, ask to be shown what is in the pots.
There are almost no Cretan vegetarians but there is plenty of choice for vegetarians and it is quite well accepted that some people don`t eat meat so don`t worry, you won`t starve. The Greek word for `vegetarian` is `hortofagos` which means plants (especially of the grassy/green type) eater.
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