Crete’s traditions – Rakokazano

Photo by DanaTentis from Pixabay
Photo by DanaTentis from Pixabay

From October till December Rakokazo takes place throughout Cretan homes – and it is the chance for lucky visitors to partake in local life.

A kaleidoscope of scents, colours and favours, Crete is fascinating for myriad reasons – and its vibrant, zestful culture is among the most important ones. Intertwined with myth and lore and moulded over thousands of centuries through Minoan, Venetian, Ottoman, Byzantine and Arabic influences, Crete’s rich cluster of traditions and rites is still surviving today – and continues to capture the hearts and minds of locals and visitors alike.

Arguably Crete’s most potent trademark is raki – or tsikoudia: A 40% proof spirit, hailing from antiquity and inexorably linked with every aspect of local life. Minoans had it with their meals, while over the centuries, Cretans used it for all sorts of purposes, including the medicinal and the euphoric. Raki nowadays remains an integral – if not the most characteristic – part of the Cretan identity and culture. Savoured as an aperitif or digestif, in feasts and celebrations, at weddings and funerals, and as a welcome to friends and strangers, this clear and potent liquid is how to toast joys and drown sorrows – the Cretan way.

Rakokazano in Crete

Following the vine harvest, from October to mid-December, rakokazano or kazanema (raki boiling) takes place throughout the island of Crete – and it is a festive occasion involving copious amounts of food and drink, garnished with ecstatic song and dance. After all, any excuse for a raki party goes, with raki acting as a social lubricant bringing friends, family and strangers together.

The custom of rakokazano was instituted back in the 1920s, when Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos gave farmers a special permit to distil raki for extra income. There is at least one inhabitant in every village with a licence to produce the drink – and they do it based on an ancient method. The crushed leftovers of grapes ferment for more than forty days in barrels. After fermentation, brewers put the pomace in the cauldron with water and light a fire to make it simmer. The fire should be neither too strong nor too weak. Balance is the key — and brewers are responsible for following the recipe as it was handed down to them by the previous generations.

There is also a pipe that goes out of the boiler, and it is usually externally cooled so that steam turns into liquid. After a while, one drop after another, raki begins to flow. Protoraki (the first raki) is the first distillate – and it is extremely strong. But it more than serves its purpose! Raki production is not a solitary process. Instead, the one who kazanevei (distils raki) typically hosts a feast to celebrate the first raki of the year. So, sip by sip, spirits rise higher and higher, and the participants start exchanging mantinades to the sound of the lyra. The dancing doesn’t take too long to begin either. Rakokazano evolves into a fully-fledged, Dionysical fiesta – a token of the legendary Cretan hospitality and a prime opportunity to get fully immersed into local culture and life.

Did you like our post about Rakokazano in Crete? Stay tuned to the Oscar Suites & Village blog for more tips and ideas for discoveries in and around Chania and for more local insights and suggestions on what to see and do on the fabulous island of Crete!

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