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All about the cuisine of Albania (02.02.17)

 

Albanian cuisine consists of local dishes from around the country of Albania. Many of these dishes are typical of the Balkans and indeed the Mediterranean, but some are local specialties. The main meal of the Albanians is lunch and it is usually accompanied by a salad of fresh vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, olives, olive oil, vinegar and salt.

Albanian cuisine (Kuzhina shqiptare)is the national cuisine of the Albanian people. It is Mediterranean, influenced by many including Greek, Italian and Turkish cooking. Albanian cuisine is characterized by the use of Mediterranean herbs such as oregano, mint, basil, rosemary and more in cooking meat and fish, but also chilli pepper and garlic. Vegetables are used in almost every dish.

The dishes of Albania have their roots with the ancient Ottoman Empire. The combination of richly fertile land, proximity to the sea, and blurry cultural lines with their neighbours have culminated in a modern cuisine that is both diverse and simple. Modern day influences include Greece, Italy, and Turkey.

Meat and vegetables are the staple, along with heavy stews, pickled cabbage, feta cheese, breads, rice, and smoked meat. The most popular veg grown are eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives (which accompany most meals), and legumes. Very Mediterranean indeed! Vegetarians be warned. There are a lot of salads in your future – luckily, there’s plenty of fresh produce to enjoy.

Albania has the kind of soil that can grow just about anything. Poultry features heavily in dishes here – duck, goose, chicken, and turkey are all raised here. Fishermen catch flounder, perch, gray mullet, and sole in the Adriatic Sea. You’ll find egg, spinach, or cabbage cakes, nettle cakes, liver, and curd. Tav elbasani is a highlight you won’t want to miss. It’s made by baking meat in yogurt.

Most of the cattle are raised in the southern region of Albania, which means that dairy products often take centre stage in dishes. It’s well known for fantastic hard and soft cheeses, as well as kefir so thick that you could cut it with a knife. The climate is warmer here and so you’ll find citrus and olive groves throughout the area.

Albanian dishes are by far the most ubiquitous meal you’ll find in Albania. The most popular are lamb stew (ferges), roast beef in fermented milk sauce (rosto-misalche-kosi), cabbage rolls (sarma), and sheep pluck stuffed with meat and vegetables (kukurech). Almost all meat dishes are served with bread and/or rice, as well as some greens.

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.

During the summers a cold soup called tarator is served. It’s made with vinegar, cucumber, garlic, walnut, fennel, and spices. During the winters the Albanians have plenty of hearty stews to choose from. Try sataras, a lighter stew made with tomatoes, onions, and paprika. There’s also your standard meat and onions stew (chumlek) and meat with potatoes (guvech).
Savoury dinner pies are a favourite in Albania. And they are just as hearty as their stews and just as flavourful. Try byrek, made with feta cheese cabbage, spinach, tomatoes, and meat all layered in a tasty filo pastry

DESSERTS
Albanians definitely have a sweet tooth and you’ll find that most enjoy a dessert with their meals. There are lots of fruit and cream dishes, as well as cookies and baklava. When you’re looking for something to top off your meal, look for wheat (ashure) or rice (sultash) puddings, fried dough in a rich syrup (tollumba), or crystallized fruit (oshaf). Boza, a fermented malt drink, often accompanies dessert.

When you’re just looking to satisfy a sweet craving, do as the Albanians do and have halva. It’s flour or semolina, with lots of sugar, cooked to make one of the most popular sweets in the country. Other equally popular options are variations of sweet or savoury dough balls.

But the most surprising desserts are those made of simple fresh fruit. Fruit is enjoyed all year in Albania – eat them fresh or find them made into jams and compots. Albanian cherries are well known – as are pears, peaches, and apples.

National dish is baked lamb, rice, and yoghurt sauce called tavë kosi. Everybody’s mother makes it best! Other specialities include pace, which is made by boiling an animal head (usually pig, cow, or sheep) until the meat comes off. It’s then made into a stew with onion, garlic, and other spices. You might also try harapash, a polenta based dish cooked with lamb intestines, butter, cheese, and corn flour.

Dinner appetizers or platters are usually served with salami, prosciutto, feta cheese, green olives, and roasted red peppers. To follow, try koran, a species of trout unique to Albania, jufka, handmade pasta, oofte ferguara, fried lamb or beef meatballs served with feta cheese and bread, or flifa, a humongous pancake, more like a pie, made by layering crepe and served with melted cream cheese.

Drinks
In addition to the most common drinks, such as coffee and juice, Albania has a strong preference for mineral water, which is generally carbonated. They also enjoy carbonated soft drinks along with tea and a local buttermilk called dhalle

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