When travelling to Albania I can almost guarantee that you will be surprised about Albanian cuisine. Albania is not known for its food necessarily, but it should be because it’s delicious. Traditional Albanian food can be described as fresh, healthy and mouth-watering. The food of Albania has Mediterranean flavours which can be compared to its neighbours in the Balkans as well as an Italian and Turkish influence.
You will find lots of fresh salads, lots of meat, white cheese (feta), lots of olive oil and herbs such as oregano. The fruit is something I must mention because to me, it’s the most flavourful. Most of the product is grown in a garden or farm no more than 30 minutes from you (if you go to the market instead of the supermarket). Make sure you try the figs, blackberries, peaches, plums and watermelon in the summer. In autumn you will find mandarins everywhere and oranges (and they are mouth-watering juicy)!
The country doesn’t have a huge market around its food but with the Mediterranean flavours, the slow food movement is slowly taking off. There are some great restaurants and agritourism businesses starting within the country. One of the most popular is Mrizi I Zanave located in Lezhe!
The country has managed to avoid a lot of fast food businesses coming in due to the country being in communism until 1990 and the country basically disapproving of fast food (except souvlaki!).
Let’s look at some of the best traditional Albanian food that you should try during your time in Albania.
North and south differences
There are notable differences between the north and south of Albania. In the north, as its colder, you will find more stews and hearty food. In the south, along the coast especially you will find a lot of fresh seafood and lighter meals.
Here are 39 traditional Albanian food you must try!
1. Tava e kosit (Lamb with yoghurt)
Tava e kosit is a lamb dish that’s baked in yoghurt. It’s a simple dish which is baked with garlic, oregano and rice. The lamb is tender and flavourful and there should be a nice golden layer on the dish when it comes out of the oven. I highly recommend you try this delicious dish while in Albania.
2. Jani me Fasule (White bean soup)
This is a hearty dish usually eaten in the winter to warm up the insides. It’s made with white cannelloni beans, tomato paste, olive oil and onion. It’s a simple dish but a staple traditional Albanian food that you will find just about everywhere.
One of the most popular Albanian dishes, one that my mother-in-law makes very well! This is a dish which is can be described as a quiche. It’s made with milk, butter, white cheese (feta) and cooked spaghetti. Then it’s put all together and baked to make a slice. It’s dairy heavy but a great dinner dish alongside a salad or a great snack, very filling!
You will find a lot of fresh seafood, especially along the Albanian Riviera. It’s known for its fresh array of fish, beautifully flaky and almost melt in your mouth it’s so fresh. You will find a lot of seafood restaurants or shacks along the seaside. In Albania, they cook the fish and serve whole. I highly recommend trying the fish while you’re in Albania.
Another great seafood option and another one you will find on the menu everywhere in cities like Vlora, Saranda and everywhere in between.
This is my favourite seafood to have in Albania. Believe it or not but I didn’t eat seafood before I moved to Albania so that’s a tribute to how fresh and delicious Albanian seafood is. You will get the option to have grilled or fried although fried it the best (in my opinion!).
You must try the mussels in Albania if you love seafood. They are also incredibly affordable, as is all the seafood here. You can get a big bucket of mussels for a quarter of the price than you will find in Greece.
You will find byrek everywhere in Albania. It’s a popular breakfast option for Albanians or a great snack on the go. But you should know there are LOTS of different flavours, combinations and textures to a byrek. The most popular is the crispy flaky pastry stuffed with white cheese. There’s also broshura which is a type of byrek that’s made from greens such as spinach. My mother in law makes it with over 8 different types of greens. It’s savoury, garlicky and very filling so this byrek is not so much a snack but more a meal!
If you’re looking for a national dish, then this is possibly it! This is a tasty dish which has been adopted widely around Albania. The most popular and common way is white cheese with red peppers, tomatoes, onion, a little flour, butter and yoghurt! Then it’s mixed together and cooked in a clay pot in the oven. It’s incredibly delicious and one I recommend having! They have variations which are spicy and one that’s made with liver.
10. Perime Në Scarë (grilled vegetables)
Grilled vegetables are a popular complement to any meal, especially if you’re having grilled meat which is also popular in Albania. Have them with a dash of balsamic vinegar and it’s delicious!
11. Flea/ Fli
This is a layered pancake dish made using a grill. There are tonnes of variations depending on villages and regions. It’s a simple recipe but it cooks for a few hours. You keep lathering the pancakes while it’s baking slowly making a delicious, soft dessert. It’s usually served with some local honey or yoghurt.
12. Speca te mbushura (pepper stuffed with cheese)
This is one of the tastiest dishes in Albania especially if you’re vegetarian although some variations have mince in so beware of that! Peppers are stuffed with white cheese (feta) and cooked in the oven. This dish is mouth-watering and simply delicious.
13. Tarator (cold soup)
A cold soup? Yes! This dish is a popular Balkan dish, so it’s not only found in Albania. This soup is made with yoghurt, garlic, thyme and vinegar. Apparently, it’s good for a rough hangover. It’s the perfect soup for summer, it’s also called summer soup!
This is a dish which you will find all over the Balkans with various names. This is essentially a meatball, but longer and more delicious in my opinion. It’s made with minced lamb, garlic and herbs then fried in hot oil.
15. Grilled meat
You will find lots of little restaurants and street shacks selling grilled meat. From lamb, chicken and pork, there are lots of options for an avid meat eater. Most of the tavernas will offer a mixed grill plate so you get an array of different meat. One of my favourites is pork pancetta!
This dish is an Albanian food from the city of Elbasan. It’s turkey with bread and walnuts. This is a meal which you may find hard to locate in restaurants within the touristy areas. This is a meal which I eat homecooked, it’s not one that I have seen on menus (especially here in Saranda). The texture and taste are like chicken stuffing, with the bread, herbs and onion. It’s got a delicious taste to it!
17. Paçe Koke (head soup)
Don’t worry, it’s the head of a lamb! This is like a meat stew. It’s hearty and popular in Albania, something you would find in a typical Albanian home! Before you turn your nose up at the head part it’s surprisingly delicious!
18. Pace plenci
This dish is like the one above but instead of a head, it made from tripe (the insides). This is an acquired taste which I have not been able to bring myself to eat. Just the smell of someone cooking this puts me off eating for the day so it’s safe to say, this dish is not for me – but it might be for you! Try it and tell me below what you think.
Another tripe inspired dish, kukurec is a grilled form of intestines and liver. The liver is wrapped in the intestines and then grilled for a grilled meat taste. I have heard that this dish is delicious and a favourite with my boyfriend. I am yet to try it!
20. Kulac (bread)
This bread is firm, dense and known as soda bread. It’s a great compliment to a meal and its very inexpensive.
21. Salce Kosi
This is like what tzatziki is in Greece, this is a dip made from yoghurt and garlic. It’s great with grilled meat, greek salad and bread. It’s sour, simple and delicious!
22. Japrak (wrapped vine leaves)
If you have been to Greece, then this dish may look similar and it’s because it is! Japrak is minced lamb rice, herbs and cooked until tender. I highly recommend tasting Japrak. You can usually get the vegetarian variation depending on where you are.
23. Qifqi (vegetable risotto balls)
This is a dish which comes from the UNESCO city of Gjirokastër (only an hour from Saranda). This dish is essentially vegetable risotto balls. Egg, rice and herbs are mixed together then cooked as balls. They are a great compliment to some Salce Kosi or grilled meat.
24. Qumeshtor (milk pie)
Qumeshtor is a byrek but you may be surprised because this one is sweet! It’s made with milk, eggs and vanilla. It tastes similar to custard.
25. Byrek me kungull (with pumpkin)
This byrek is made with mashed pumpkin and its delicious. It’s sort of sweet but savoury at the same time. A perfect snack or even meal!
26. Djathë i bardhë (baked cheese)
This is exactly what the translation is, baked cheese! White cheese is also known as feta is baked with olive oil, herbs and sometimes olives or tomato and pepper. It’s a great compliment to your dinner or a good appetizer to have with bread.
Although this isn’t a traditional Albanian food (this dessert comes from Turkey), it tastes delicious and should be tried while you’re travelling Albania! Baklava is a sweet dessert with layers of crispy pastry filled with honey, walnuts and many delicious things!
Petulla is like little fried doughnuts or churro balls. It’s usually served with honey or chocolate sauce. Along the Albanian Riviera, you will usually find people walking up and down the beaches selling these little treats!
Kadaif is a sweet and crispy dessert which looks like it has hair on top! It’s also made with filo pastry like Baklava. It’s simple to make. The texture filo pastry but it’s shredded to make that strange texture. It’s very sweet, like a lot of Albanian desserts and contains walnuts with a syrup which makes up most of the dessert.
This is a sweet honey biscuit cake and again, walnuts! Seems to be a popular theme with Albanian desserts. It’s soft but a little hard and very sweet. Another delicious Albanian dessert to try!
Sultjash is a creamy rice pudding which contains rice (duh), milk, vanilla extract, cinnamon and cardamom. I find this a nice change to the other Albanian desserts as it’s not as sweet but it’s just sweet enough!
This dessert is another rice-based pudding but with raisins, cinnamon, almonds, cloves, brown sugar and sometimes mutton broth. It’s a darker dessert and not creamy like Sultjash.
Drinks in Albania
When you come to Albania you will probably be forced to try raki at some point. This is a popular drink throughout the Balkans. Usually, it tastes similar depending on what region you are in. It’s a distilled alcohol made from fruit (usually grapes but it’s made form lots of other fruits too!). It’s very strong, you may not be able to drink it all! In Albania, you will notice the older men having their morning coffee with a shot of raki. Although it’s not downed like a shot, you should sip it! Raki is believed to be healthy, good for the heart, which is why the old men drink it. It’s also used in hospitals as an antiseptic and for a whole lot of other medical issues. Basically, if you have anything wrong with you, you should drink a glass of raki. It’s the Albanian way!
Dhalle is a sour yoghurt drink like the Turkish drink ayran. Albanians usually have this with a byrek or if you’re eating something spicy then this is your best friend! You should try the byrek and Dhalle combo. It’s a match made in heaven!
This is a simple drink containing corn flour, wheat flour, sugar and water. Bozë is an ancient drink influenced by Ottomans. It’s a sort of brown/yellow colour.
Did you know that Albania has the most coffee shops per capita than any other country in the world? Albanians love coffee. Going to a café is usually not a 10-minute deal like you might see in the other countries. Sitting down, having an expresso is an art form in Albania. Many can sit up for hours, drinking coffee, catching up with friends and enjoying life (or the Albanians have told me it’s because they have nothing else to do).
I’m not sure which one but whatever it is, I’m down for it. An expresso only costs 50 lek at my local coffee shop. Just like seafood, I didn’t drink coffee before I came to Albania so that’s another testament on how good the coffee is!
37. Albanian Beer
You can find some local Albanian beer, the most popular being Korca which is made in the city of Korca – wow who would have thought?! They make a couple of different beers, a light and a dark. I don’t normally like dark beers but this one I don’t mind, it’s delicious.
38. Albanian Wine
Albanians have been making wine for thousands of years. They have some of the best climate and terrain for grape growing, grapes are everywhere in the summer! One of the best places to taste local wine is a winery called Cabo, in Berat. Here you can have tastings and they even have a platter option so you can snack and learn about their wine.
Just like raki, tea is used for many medical problems. In Albania, there is a tea for every sort of problem you could have. One of the most popular is Sideritis also known as mountain tea because it’s grown in the mountains. This tea is everywhere, there’s so much that you probably would never have to buy it. Another popular is cherry tail tea which helps with an array of problems too and is a little sweet and a little bitter.
Other popular food (not Albanian)
Other food that you will find popular in Albania included Pizza, Pasta, Russian salad and chicken fillet with mushroom sauce. Although these are not typically Albanian food, these are made for tourists. In saying that I highly recommend you do try the pizza and pasta in Albania. I have had better pizza than I have had in Italy. This is because a large amount of Albanian moved to Italy and brought back the art of making the most delicious pizza and pasta!
Being vegan/vegetarian in Albania
Is being a vegan/vegetarian hard in Albania? As you can probably tell meat and dairy are a staple to the Albanian diet. As a vegetarian, you will find dishes like fergese, fasule and byrek your best friend. You will find Albanians have a salad with everything so there’s usually good salad options (Greek or country salad is the most popular and always delicious). Also, grilled vegetables are a staple so there is that option, but you are limited.
If you’re a vegan, it’s going to be hard because nearly every dish is made with dairy or other animal products. The friend that I have that are vegan stuck with fresh fruit (which are so juicy and the best in the world!) and lots of fresh salads. Vegan restaurants are hard to come by, hopefully in the future that will change! You may find one in the capital of Tirana.
So, there was your round-up of the best traditional Albanian food, tell me below which ones you would love to try and which one you think you will be avoiding!
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