If there is any local product truly representing the identity of Crete, that must be Cretan raki.
Cretan Raki (ρακή), also called Tsikoudia, is the perfect metaphor to the local traditions. Raki is a landmark on the island, and it cannot be described simply as a drink. The ritual of raki involves a moment of authentic sharing. It’s a key part of a culture that pretty much revolves around eating, drinking and dancing.
Originally known as tsikoudia, the name raki is a memory of the years of Ottoman occupation on the island (1646-1898). Still, the raki from Turkey has very different characteristics that place it somewhat nearer to Greek ouzo, only a bit less sweet.
On Crete, raki is a transparent liquor, with a high alcoholic gradation. It also has a very typical flavor that the production process confers upon the drink. About 45 days after the grape harvest, once the production of wine is over, it comes the time for raki distillation.
Pomace fermentation (Photo by Gabi Ancarola).
Distillation of Raki
The distillation of Cretan raki is part of a family ritual involving joy and celebration. There are big parties in several villages the night the first raki of the season is tasted. A moment of happiness when everyone eats, dances and drinks through the night till the break of the dawn.
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The ancient method to distillate raki is a process that locals have followed for ages. Crushed grapes, seeds and skin remaining once grapes have been pressed to produce wine, ferment for over a month. After that, everything is boiled in a traditional cauldron or distiller.
Cauldron (Photo by Gabi Ancarola).
The pomace goes inside the pot of the cauldron together with some water and it simmers over the fire. The heat should not be too slow. It should not be too strong either. That would burn the pomace. It takes some time for raki to begin to flow. The drops of the liquid go through a piece of cloth for filtration, and then into bottles for later consumption. This is the home-made method. The raki produced in industrial distilleries and wineries undergoes double distillation. The result is a flavor that completely changes the authentic taste of the spirit.
Filtering the raki coming out of the cauldron (Photo by Gabi Ancarola).
More than a drink
The most popular drink on the island is normally consumed before lunch, with a round of olives, cheese or rusks. Cretans also enjoy it with sweets or fruit after lunch. And it’s the perfect medicine od grandma’s will suggest for any health condition, from a headache to the flu. Its flavor is that of sweet sin dried raisins, very fragrant, with almost 50% of alcohol by volume.
Bottles of raki for sale (Photo by Gabi Ancarola).
There’s always a little bottle of raki on any Cretan table. It stands for hospitality and friendship, two of the most outstanding traits of indigenous communities. It’s a synonym with Greek hospitality, the core essence of Crete and its culture.
Have you indulged in a glass of raki? Are you ready to raise a glass of Greek hospitality?