Albania has a rich cuisine with lots of influence from its surrounding countries in the Mediterranean and Balkans. Combine this with a wide variety of locally grown and sourced ingredients and you have a menu full of freshly made dishes to satisfy your taste buds. So here is our list of suggestions for main dishes, appetizers, desserts and drinks to truly experience the Albanian food culture.
Appetizers And Main Dishes
In Albania there’s a thin line between appetizers (also called meze) and main courses. Some dishes can be eaten just as a snack or appetizer, a side dish or as a full lunch or dinner. Dishes can be for one person but it’s also common to share a selection of dishes with a group of people.
1. Fresh Fish & Seafood
Being located at the sea, Saranda and the Albanian Riviera have always been infused with a culture of fish and seafood. With local fishermen continuously bringing in their catch of the day you’re always guaranteed to be served the freshest seafood dishes. Among the commonly found fishes are sea bream, salmon, sea bass, and carp which are traditionally grilled on charcoal. Other delicious seafood dishes include octopus, shrimps and mussels, with the latter being farmed on the Butrint Lake.
2. Tavë Kosi
Tavë Kosi is a lamb and yoghurt casserole and is a national dish commonly found on menus across Albania. It consists of lamb and rice which are mixed to a roux with yoghurt and eggs, before being baked in a clay dish in the oven until golden brown. It’s a satisfying taste that can’t be missed when visiting Albania!
3. Stuffed Peppers
A commonly found side dish or appetizer is speça te mbushura or stuffed peppers. The peppers are usually filled with rice and herbs and variations can include meat, cheese, tomatoes, or other fillings before being baked in the oven.
4. Salce Kosi
Salce Kosi is a delicious appetizer or side dish which is very similar to Greek Tatziki. It’s basically a sour cream made of yoghurt, often mixed with cucumber and herbs or garlic and is usually eaten with bread or as a side to grilled meats.
Byrek is commonly found throughout the Balkans and comes in many different forms. It’s basically a phyllo pastry filled with anything from cheese, to onions, ham, spinach, tomatoes or even pumpkin. In Albania byrek usually comes in either a triangular form or as a large pie, which is then cut into pieces.
Another common traditional dish is a white bean soup called fasule. The soup is prepared by soaking white beans overnight and then rinsing and boiling them. In general the soup is hearty but not heavy, but recipies and ingredients can vary.
7. Grilled Meats
Apart from seafood, meat is an integral part of the Albanian cuisine so you’ll find many restaurants serving grilled or barbecued meat, as well as smaller takeaway shacks selling meat dishes as street food. It would be an endless list if we would try to mention every option so it’s best to go with your preferred taste or try out a bit of everything by ordering a shared platter or mixed grill.
Fërgesë is another traditional dish that has become a nationwide favorite. It’s a very tastful dish which is usually baked in the oven in a clay pot and is vegetarian friendly as well! It’s main variant is a mixture of chopped tomatoes, peppers and cottage cheese, seasoned with garlic and other spices. It’s usually served with bread and can be enjoyed either hot or cold, with the latter having a bit of a thicker texture after cooling down.
There are also variations of fërgesë with meat, inluding a version with liver called tavë dheu.
9. Baked Cheese
Baked cheese (djathë i pjekur) is a delicious appetizer or side to your meal, usually combined with bread. The cheese is baked in the oven with olive oil and herbs, sometimes complimented with some vegetables like tomatoes or peppers. White cheese (djatë i bardhë, also known as feta) is the most common, but there is also a version with yellow simi-hard cheese, called kashkaval (kaçkavall).
10. Vegetable Dishes
Albania grows some delicious vegetables which are a healthy enrichment to any meal. Pictured here is an oven baked mix of okra and tomatoes, but grilled vegetables are also very common. To eat and support local, it’s best to go with whichever vegetables are in season and so do most restaurants.
Although originally from Greece, pastitio (pastiço) has become a very common household dish in Albania. It’s basically cooked pasta mixed with milk, butter, eggs, flour, cheese and sometimes meat, which is baked in the oven to become a dense mass that is then cut into pieces.
12. Fresh Salads
With the long and hot summers, Albanians love their salads with fresh and locally grown vegetables. You will see a Greek salad or a village or farmer’s salad on almost any menu as it’s always a great addition to a meal.
Pache (paçe) is a traditional soup made of the head of an animal, usually a sheep. The head is boiled so the meat comes off easily and is then cooked with garlic, vinegar, onion and black pepper. The idea might not be for everyone, but it’s a true delicacy and a must try for the real foodies who might even want to try the version that includes other parts like tripe (stomach).
Qifqi is a traditional dish from the village of Gjirokastra, about an hour from Saranda. Qifqi are basically fried rice balls with egg and herbs. A simple, but very tasty snack or appetizer.
Although not really a dish, you can’t visit Albania without trying some of the locally grown fruits. The climate is ideal for growing some of the most delicious fruits, like sweet summer fruits including grapes, figs, watermelons, cherries, plums and all sorts of berries, but also apples, pomgranates and oranges and manarins. Since Albanians like to shop locally and importing is expensive, you might not find a large selection at any time, but if you shop with the season you’re always guaranteed to find the best locally grown, mouthwatering fruits.
P.S. be careful with the prickly pears (also called tuna fruit) pictured here, as they have tiny hair-like thorns that will stick into your skin.
Qofte can be found throughout the Balkans and Greece and are basically fried meatballs with herbs. The meat is usually lamb and its shape is more oval rather than round.
Desserts & Sweets
There’s no better way to finish your meal in Balkan style with a sweet treat. Albanians love their sweets, which can also be eaten separately or to accompany a coffee or tea.
Baklava is originally from Turkey, but has been widely adopted in the Albanian life and throughout the entire Balkan. Although baklava comes in many forms and varieties, the traditional version is a sweet pasty made of layers of thin and crispy (phyllo) dough with honey and nuts.
Kadaif is a typical Balkan dessert that looks like it’s growing ginger hair on top. It’s very similar to baklava and also made of (shredded) phyllo pastry which is soaked in nuts and a sweet syrup.
Petulla are fried dough balls which are usually served as a breakfast, dessert or snack with a variety of toppings like chocolate, honey, jam or cheese. If you go to the beach, you’ll most likely encounter people walking around to sell petulla with a chocolate sauce like in the picture above.
Trilece is a popular dessert made of a sponge cake of tree types of milk and a topping of brown syrup for a sweet taste.
In Albania you can get almost any type of drink, but if you want to drink like the locals do, here are some suggestions.
Raki is the most important alcoholic drink in Albania and some people even make their own raki at home. Raki is a strong liqor with an alcohol percentage of 40% and can be made of different types of fruits, but raki rrushi, which is made of grapes, is the most common one. In contrast to some other cultures, Albanians don’t finish their shot in one go but slowly drink their raki sip by sip.
22. Local Beers
Albania doesn’t have a developped craft beer culture, but the people love their locally brewed lagers. In the end, what else do you want on a hot summer day than a freshly poured ice-cold draft beer? Among the Albanian brands you will find are Korça, Tirana, Elbar, Kaon and Stela.
23. Albanian Wines
Albania has one of the best climates for growing grapes, so it’s probably no surprice that wine has been an integral part of the Albanian culture since forever. You can get local wines at every supermarket or restaurant so plenty of opportunities to find your favorite.
Coffee is maybe even the most important drink in Albania as it’s such an integral part of the culture. It’s not just a drink, but rather an activity as people meet up and socialize over a coffee on a daily basis. Therefore you can get a coffee for as little as 50 lekë almost anywhere. Espresso and turkish coffee (kafe turke) are the most common types of coffee people drink.
Albania is rich of herbs and so is its tea culture. There are many different types of teas, even to cure all sorts of health problems, but the most commonly known tea is mountain tea (çaj mali). This tea is made of sideritis raeseri, a wild-growing herb found in the mountains.
Dhallë is a very popular drink in Albania and throughout the Balkans and Turkey. It’s a mixture of yoghurt with ice-cold water, pepper and salt which makes it a healthy and hearty refreshment. You can find Dhallë in any supermarket and in many restaurants.
Tip: also check out The Best Traditional Albanian Food Restaurants In Saranda.