Albania seems to be one of the last hidden gems amongst individual travelers looking for a special immersion into genuine culture and pristine nature – unspoiled by mass tourism. A fantastic coastline, endless possibilities for outdoor activities and the incredible hospitality of the Albanians should be plenty of reasons to visit the country.
Another reason, however, should be Albania´s lively culinary heritage. Over centuries the local cuisine has taken up many different flavours from the neighboring countries and proves to be a melting pot of Mediterranean and oriental recipes. Yet, to this day, Albania’s cuisine remains mostly undiscovered by international tourists.
A culinary trip through Albania is like a stroll through the kitchens of the entire eastern part of the Mediterranean. The cuisine mirrors the country’s eventful history. With every new conqueror+ new influences came into the country. The Turks, Greeks, and Italians shared their knowledge and created a wealth of recipes. No one is left hungry for the lack of a restaurant that serves his taste!
362 km of coastal line, the Albanian Alps, the Korab-Mountain range and the fertile plains around Tirana provide a broad range of fresh local produce every day. Yet, every region has its own specialty and taste.
Maize, potatoes, kidney beans, and grains are mainly cultured in Albania’s north. The region’s mild climate is perfect for cherries, walnuts, almonds and plums – the base for the strong “Rakia”, a flavorsome liquor that should not be missed out on at any local dinner. Maize is grounded to flour and used in a wide variety of baked goods – a true heaven for any traveler that is following a gluten free diet.
A specialty for breakfast in the northern regions of Albania is Petula, a type of sweet yeast dumplings. A specialty in the region of Lezhë with the Patoku lagoon is bukë misri, a bread made from maize flour dipped into salt water.
The lake Shkodra and the coast provide a wide variety of fish and seafood. The lake is famous for its carp which is prepared in two different ways: grilled on a roofing tile (Krap në Tjegull) or as a stew (Tavë peshku). Meat lovers will enjoy Sudjuk, a garlic salami, and Pastërma, the predecessor of the American pastrami.
In central Albania’s fertile soils grow all kinds of vegetables. Furthermore, the main part of poultry and cows are being raised locally. The Adriatic coast of this part of Albania mainly provides flounder, plaice, redfish, and grey mullets.
Turkish Byrek is a common snack all over the country. Travelers can buy the delicious pastry filo-pastry filled with cheese, spinach, tomatoes, beans, or meat. There are at least three different ways of preparing the filo-pastry which most of us only know under the generic term Byrek: Lakror with two layers of pastry, Byrek with 12 layers and Petanik with 50 layers.
Other traditional food of the central region is: Pilaf, a rice-like grain cooked in meat broth and served with yoghurt. Another favorite is Paçe, a hearty meat stew. For those, who fancy themselves culinary adventurers, a taste of Paçe Koke is advisable: A similar dish to Pace with meat from cow’s, sheep’s or pig’s heads.
The two lakes on the eastern border to Macedonia are the source of excellent fresh water fish. Lake Ohrid is home to the Koran trout as one of only three lakes worldwide. Upon royal request, this special trout variety is even fished in Albania and served to her Majesty the Queen of England.
Another delicacy for the locals is Kukurec – intestines being filled with liver and spices, grilled on a skewer. The same dish is also known as Kokoreç in Turkey. Till today there is a dispute whether the Turkish brought it to Albania or the other way around. The Albanians surely believe that the Turkish enjoyed it so much during their invasion that they brought it back home when leaving Albania. But, the Turks will surely have a second opinion on this matter.
A little less exotic are the coastal regions: the proximity to Italy is not only evident in the roman amphitheaters and the port of Durrës, but also in freshly made pizza, home-made pasta, and all kinds of seafood dishes.
Culinary borders between the Central and South of Albania are blury. South of Tirana the Greek influence on Albania’s cuisine becomes stronger the further southone travels. Japrak, filled vine leaves are a specialty, such as Djath, a sheep’s cheese resembling Greek feta.
Herds of cattle are kept in the South, evident in the broad range of dairy products this region is known for: Kefir, Yoghurt, and several kinds of cheeses, such as Djathë kackavall resembling the European Emmental cheese.
The cities of Sarandë and Vlorë are known for their fish and mussels. A favorite refreshment is Tarator, a cold soup made of yoghurt, vinegar, sour milk, cucumber or salad as well as fennel, garlic, walnut- and olive oil accompanied by special spices.
In Albania, independently from the region, lunch is the main meal of the day. Often it consists of Gjellë, a stew of meat and vegetables of the region, accompanied by a fresh salad.
Albania’s culinary delicacies are offering tourists a broad range of exciting experiences and allow a culinary journey through the Balkan, Greece, Italy, and Turkey without ever leaving beautiful Albania.