,, Things not to say. “Albanian food is just like Greek food.” Although my favourite “Greek” restaurant is run by Albanians. There are however significant differences. Being next to Greece you’ll see similar dishes with a delicious twist. It’s customary in the mountain towns to order many dishes Spanish tapas-style with a mix of grilled veggies, cheeses, and wine. Try the mussels when near the sea, no really, try the mussels, especially in the south of the country. Whatever you do, learn to relax. The food will arrive, really, the food will arrive, honestly, it will eventually arrive.
Leave the evening free, start at say 9 pm, and aim to finish about midnight if you’re in a rush. Make sure to get the wine in as early as you can, you’ll be fine. When you finish waiting for the bill, have some more wine, wait for the bill, it will come, it will. The average English person takes between fifteen and twenty minutes to eat a meal. Americans can be a matter of just a few minutes. In Albania really relax, it's better for your digestion. Maybe a waiter will come maybe not, but they will come, did I mention that they will come.
Always order a starter. In fact, Albanian food is often a lot of little dishes. Don’t stress waiting for the bill either, it will come, honest. If you don’t care about your digestion, conversation, or having an extra glass of wine, go and ask for it, they will give it to you, eventually. (Alan Durant, 2020)
“A large proportion of the Albanian population
has lived – at least for a time – in Western Europe, which is a blessing for
tourists who visit the country. Firstly because most people have at minimum
some basic command of a foreign language, and by some mix of English, German
and Italian it’s always possible to order dinner and inquire who precisely has
the keys to the old church. There are also many whose knowledge of foreign
languages is much more advanced, and even at remote rural gas stations, we found
employees who gave us directions in faultless English.
What’s more, those Albanians
who go abroad as guest workers, then start a business back home with the money
they have saved, do a lot to improve the standard of the hospitality sector in
Albania. Someone who has amassed a little capital by washing dishes in an
Athenian restaurant or a coffee shop in Rome while observing how such an
establishment works is not going to forget these lessons after setting up
independently. The level of service in Albanian hotels and restaurants is
therefore surprisingly high and in restaurants above the lowest price bracket,
the food is also very good.
Best of all, everything costs a fraction of
what tourists are accustomed to paying in all the neighboring countries on the Adriatic. Outside of Tirana we ate in the
sort of restaurants frequented by the local elite, and never succeeded in
spending more than €25 for the both of us. Even the most exclusive restaurants
at coastal resorts are only marginally more expensive. (2016)”
“The food is very, very good – salads are fresh,
tomatoes are blood-red, or even a shade deeper, like claret, and the sour cream
here is delicious. They only use the young animals for meat, and even now I get
a shiver of delight when I think of that heavenly, grilled goat-kid we ate
together. In the tourist restaurants, however, I don’t think they really care.
They just give you something made with meat from an older animal. Don’t get me
wrong, though, it still tastes great! The fish and seafood would also be high
on my list, but my absolute favorite is tave dheu (a sort of stew, mixed with
cottage cheese in a ceramic bowl).
After all, I’ve said this might sound a little
strange, but it’s true: the range of options is quite small. Everywhere offers
the same fifteen or so dishes, which is no problem if you live in the country
and go to restaurants occasionally as a treat, but if you’re a tourist and
there’s no variety, it can get a bit tiresome. One thing in which they are without a doubt world champion in, however, is baked goods: some pastry shops were so
good that at the end of the trip we went back to that town just for them. But
imagine – no cocktails! Anywhere! Of course, they’re not quite an indispensable
part of life, but at the same time, we were spending a good week or so by the
Since many Albanians went to work in Italy, we decided to go to an Italian
restaurant, figuring that they’d be masters of that cuisine. The restaurant –
which seems, based on the price, to cater mainly to rich locals, served
excellent, fresh seafood, but our two-course dinner took over two hours to
serve. Still, the gorgeous sunset meant we didn’t really mind.
The Albanians are, as a rule, extremely
trustworthy, and you needn’t worry about overcharging. It was particularly
charming when we asked for coffee in a restaurant, but they didn’t have any.
“Not to worry,” said the waiter, “we’ll figure something out.” He went to the
café across the street, and brought the coffees over from there, together with
the bill. He didn’t ask for anything extra for his trouble.
Cafés, by the way, are at the center of local
life – almost everyone goes in for a black coffee at least once a day. The
country’s Italian connections mean that the coffee is excellent, but if you
want food with it then you’ll have to bring it yourself from the bakery or
patisserie – they almost never serve any in cafés. (2019)”
“As well as modern restaurants, there are also
places that combine the present with the distant past (ancient or medieval).
In many instances, they finance the preservation of national heritage sites by
leasing the property to a restaurant, on condition that the restauranteur
undertakes responsibility for the upkeep of the monument and its surroundings,
under the supervision of the national heritage authority.
In a restaurant, the waiter generally places
all the dishes in the center of the table and diners eat from each according
to their taste and capacity. In more tourist-focused restaurants, of course,
its also possible to find individual portions – they don’t expect visitors to
understand Albania’s particular dining customs.
As in the rest of the world, so in Albania – if you want to really experience
the local food, try to eat in places where locals eat. The best are those
little eateries and grills where the décor is simple, there’s no waiter, and
you’re likely to be served by the proprietor or a family member. In a place
like that, you’re sure to get the real local fare, and the prices will be far lower
than in tourist restaurants.
Burek is the Albanian fast food of choice, and
depending on which filling you choose, it is likely to cost you between 30-100
leks. You can find burek vendors on practically every street corner, and they
are served with fillings of meat, cabbage, beans, spinach, cottage cheese, or
tomato. Qofte (pronounced tyofte), is also very popular and widely available.
This is a ground meat dish, similar to the Serbian cevapcici or Romanian
mititei, and makes an inexpensive lunch. (2017)
In many restaurants, they cook meat and
vegetables over an open fire. Albanians generally consider meat tastier when
it’s still on the bone, and can be eaten with a combination of fork and
fingers. The Albanians have a saying – “hold meat and women in your hands, and
use a fork to bail hay.” So we generally ate meat with our hands and saved the
fork for vegetables and salads. They always cover the tables with paper
tablecloths, so nobody minds if you “pig out” and things get a bit messy – at
the end of the meal the waiter just crumples the paper up and tosses it in the
trash. They provide lemon slices as a side to almost every dish, which is
particularly good with fish dishes and soups: in the summer heat it adds a
refreshing zest, and at the end of the meal it also comes in handy, as you can
use it to clean your hands. It’s particularly good at getting rid of any fatty
residue. All this means that you don’t need to get up from the table until
you’ve drunk that essential espresso at the end of your meal.