From Rethymno we headed west down the coast to Chania, a beautiful Venetian harbor town that just oozes old-world charm. Mykonos may have a neighborhood called Little Venice, but Chania was actually settled by the real Venetians in the 13th century.
We had visited Rethymno first because we imagined that it would be like Chania but without all the tourists. In reality, though, Rethymno has plenty of tourists of its own and, while the fortress is impressive and our stay there was certainly enjoyable, in my view it doesn’t hold a candle to Chania.
As soon as we arrived we went for lunch at a restaurant in the backstreets called Kalderimi, which was fantastic. I’m beginning to sound like a broken record here, but honestly, just about every meal we had in Greece was fantastic. That’s not to say there isn’t bad food out there, though. In Chania in particular, I would advise against eating at the waterside restaurants right on the harbor in the center of town, as they were very obviously catering strictly to tourists and trying to capitalize on their location.
Every meal in Greece starts with bread, but in this case it was delicious warm garlic bread served with a tomato salsa-type dip for spreading.
This was followed by yet another pie – this one filled with fennel and local greens – and an order of stuffed vine leaves and stuffed zucchini flowers.
The latter is a local Cretan specialty that you should definitely seek out while on the island. Stuffed vine leaves are common throughout the country, but stuffed zucchini flowers?! I only ever saw them on Crete. As you can see in the photo, it was served with a dollop of yogurt, so be sure to ask the server to leave this out. Or, you could try asking them to substitute it with skordalia (a garlicky dip made from mashed potatoes), but make sure the skordalia is nistisimo.
For dinner we ate at what turned out to be one of our favourite restaurants of the whole trip – To Steki Tavern. While there is a large indoor dining area, the most atmospheric choice by far is the al fresco dining area in the ruins of an abandoned Venetian building, with traditional Greek music playing in the background. Honestly, can you get any more romantic than this?
As a starter I chose the tomatokeftedes, translated as “tomato balls” on the menu. They might be more accurately described as patties or fritters but were delicious whatever you wish to call them.
My main course was eggplant stuffed with vegetables (and normally also stuffed with feta cheese, but they were happy to leave this out), served with a side of thick-cut French fries.
Of all the “stuffed” foods I tried in Greece (stuffed tomatoes, stuffed bell peppers, stuffed vine leaves, stuffed zucchini flowers, etc.) this was the first one to be stuffed with vegetables rather than just with herbs and rice. I do love all the other stuffed dishes too, but this one was the winner in terms of both nutrition and flavour. The combination of delicious food and romantic atmosphere makes To Steki hard to beat. Don’t miss it.
We managed to squeeze in a second visit to To Steki when we returned to Chania briefly to pick up our luggage after hiking through the Samaria Gorge (which was awesome! More on that in the next post). I couldn’t resist ordering these same two dishes again; I loved them that much. Oh, and then I also threw in some green beans in tomato sauce, just because I wanted to try something new.
Yes, I ate way too much food. No, I’m not sorry. I can’t believe I was ever worried about not being able to find vegan food in Greece. The only thing I should have been worried about was whether or not I would be able to fit into my jeans when I got home.
OK, I know I just told you not to eat at the waterfront restaurants facing the Chania harbour, but let me qualify that by saying that this really only applies to the ones smack dab in the centre of town. If you walk out towards the lighthouse you will come across some much more authentic dining establishments, such as Michalis, which offers a huge variety of mezedhes (appetizers). Any time you see a restaurant that describes itself as a mezedopoleio, this indicates that they specialize in mezedhes and thus are likely to have lots of vegan options. In the case of Michalis, it claims to be a taverna (simple Greek restaurant), ouzeri (a taverna that serves ouzo) and mezedopoleio (a taverna that serves mezedhes) all rolled into one. And by the way, if you don’t know the Greek alphabet, you might want to learn it before you go to Greece. While you’ll rarely be required to speak any Greek, the ability to read signs can be very helpful, not to mention a lot of fun. OK, so I’m a language geek. Maybe not everybody finds it to be as much fun as I do, but it’s really pretty easy with a bit of practice. And by “practice” I mean staring out the window of the bus and trying the read the store signs before they pass out of view.
The waitress at Michalis rather insistently recommended the stuffed zucchini flowers, but since I had just had those the day before I opted instead for two different kinds of kalitsouni (a small empanada-type pastry), one filled with onions and another with greens.
I also had what turned out to be a huge plate of fried vegetables, including peppers, eggplant, zucchini and mushrooms. Not the healthiest of meals by my usual standards, but certainly scrumptious.
So that’s it for Chania – certainly one of the best food destinations we discovered in Greece. There’s still lots more to come though; we’re not even finished with Crete yet!
Hello just read your information on vagatarian food in chania. So can u get quite a lot variety of vegetarian food in local taverns in Crete.
Yes! There is a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan food available in local taverns.
What would you say was the best vegan/vegertarian restaurant in around the Venetian Harbour?
If you’re looking for an exclusively vegetarian restaurant, I’ve read good reviews of To Stachi on HappyCow, though I haven’t been there personally. I believe it does have water views. Otherwise, if you want something on the harbour I recommend Michalis, which I wrote about in this post.
I love the blog and read it all the time!!
About Greece and Crete in particular- did you ask every time about the bread they serve to find out if it’s vegan for sure? Same question about their use in oil while cooking or frying food…?
Thanks a lot!!!
Thanks for the kind words! I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog. I typically don’t ask about bread or the type of oil used when I’m eating out in restaurants. I’m happy to explain why not if you’re interested (it basically comes down to the law of diminishing returns). When it comes to oil at least you should be safe, as it’s pretty much always olive oil that’s used in Greece. Asking for “nistisimo” (fasting) food should also take care of this concern.
We have been touring Crete and using your blog as a reference point if we couldn’t find a restaurant that was open based on other recommendations. Just had dinner in Kalderimi in Chania due to the other 2 restaurants we wanted to eat at being closed and we were pleasantly surprised. Our hotel is 2 buildings doen from To Steki which was another coinkydink and I felt that is eas important to tell you how much your shared experiences have made our trip all the more enjoyable, being vegan and not knowing what the heck to order on this trip. Know that this blog has made a huge difference in our lives with the information you provided (Rethymno too) and I am so grateful. Sebding Greek LUV from Chania!
I am so thrilled to hear that! I hope that you are thoroughly enjoying your time in Greece. There are plenty of delicious vegan options there, so you should do just fine!
Hi Wendy we are in Crete now and sadly must inform you that Tosaki now only jas vegan moussaka… But the sea front now has Zepos.. with a fab vegan menu.. pies.. creatan salad, vegan feta, vegan stuffed vegetables, and much more
Hi Helen, thank you for the update! I’m sure that a lot has changed in Crete since I wrote this post. That’s sad to hear that To Steki doesn’t have as many vegan options anymore, although the vegan moussaka sounds pretty great! That’s one dish I never managed to find in a vegan version during my trip to Greece in 2014. If I ever get back there, I’ll be sure to try Zepos as well.