The most important tip I can give you on Albania local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Albania, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.
What to Eat in Albania
Restaurants are very easy to find. Albania, like the Balkans in general, has a primarily Turkish influence in its cuisine. This influence stems from over 400 years of Ottoman rule in the region.
Recent influences after the fall of communism in the early 1990’s have been from Italy and Western Europe in general. Most of what is available in neighboring countries such as Greece and Italy will be available in Albania, particularly in the larger cities. Many people grow fruits and vegetables around their houses, most popularly all kinds of grapes, (red, black, green), that are used to make raki.
Albania is a very mountainous country, and these mountains have scattered olive trees that influence Albanian cuisine. Salads are usually made with fresh tomato and onion. Most Albanian people make their own bread, but going out for meals is very common. Some sort of hearty stew is commonly included in Albanian dinners.
These stews are easy to make, and flexible with ingredients. They include potatoes, onion, rice, etc. Byrek – a type of savory pie is also common, and is made in different ways.
One way is with spinach and feta cheese. Another is with ground meat and onion. Baklava is a popular desert and is always made as a desert during New Year’s Eve. If going to Albania, expect lamb to be the main meat in many places. Lamb there is naturally fed, and does not have any odor like it does in North America. Two byreks and an ayran is a very common breakfast, so try it to understand why. Cheese – lots of different types but mostly feta cheese.
In village shops be prepared that you’ll get the cheese in less hygienic way then in supermarkets but it’s worth to try as it’s usually delicious and in very good price (try those higher priced first). The “Gjirofarma” feta cheese is similar to the Greek feta cheese, although a bit more expensive. However, most of the restaurants, especially in Tirana and the southern part of the country, use this cheese. Its very delicious, and its one of the few cheeses that are exported from Albania. Lastly but not least, don’t forget to check out the many pastry shops (pastiçeri) offering a wide variety of tasty pastry including delicious cakes.
What to Drink in Albania
The legal drinking/purchasing age of alcoholic beverages is 18. The preferred alcoholic hard drink is raki that is locally produced in small towns as well as in many homes in the countryside; in some instances you may run across men washing down breakfast with a few shots. Try the mulberry rakia – Albanians are the only people in the world that produce this drink with mulberry and plum, and its very delicious, especially around Gjirokaster.
The number of homemade beers, wines and raki is as varied as the population itself; the quality of these drinks is as varied as the quantity available. Non-alcoholic drinks range from the well-known international and regional soft drink brands to the locally produced ones. You can find any type of soft drink in Albania, as well as natural mineral water,energy drinks, etc. Qafshtama water is especially good, and found in all of the country. Boza , a popular sweet drink made from maize (corn) and wheat is a traditional Albanian drink, and Albanians have been known as the best boza makers in the world.
Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend? Please add and comment.