Hungry While Roaming: Albania
Albania is a country I knew little about. I've always heard it was an affordable place to visit with beautiful beaches, yet in all honesty, my expectations of the food scene were quite low. Now, after roaming across the country for a month, I was proven wrong time and time again. From traditional recipes that date back centuries to the current food scene that artfully elevates tradition, my taste buds danced across the land of the eagles.
Let your eyes be your guide
Upon arriving in the capital city of Tirana, my stomach was grumbling and I was starting to get impatient. Knowing very little about the foods and restaurants of Albania, I turned to my reliable Google maps search "restaurants near me" only to find a barren desert of listings and reviews. I soon realized that finding almost any reliable information online across Albania is an exercise in futility. With the reality that I've been transported back to the late 80's food scene, I proceeded to walk the streets looking for any hidden gem restaurant to curb our cravings.
Luckily, I stumbled upon a small neighborhood place called Era which immediately spoke to my taste buds. They offered a diverse menu from bbq pork ribs in honey with roasted tomato yogurt to inventive apps including roasted pineapple and fried cheese coated in black sesame seeds. They also dished up a satisfying roasted eggplant stuffed with a savory mix of minced meat and garlic, peppers with some silky cheese, and basil. This dish reminded me of how close Albania is to Italy. We ended up returning to Era a total of three times visiting both of their locations in Tirana. All dishes conveyed HUGE flavor and the service and environment were extremely inviting. Most dishes ranged from 3-5 USD, so needless to say we didn't cook much while in Albania.
When I visit a new country for the first time, early in my visit I try to sample some traditional dishes to get a feel for the cuisine and culture. On a youtube vlog, I discovered a place called restaurant Oda so I thought I'd give it a try. The vegetable soup, which I believe had a chicken base, was one of my favorites. It was served with a satisfying dense cornbread which was perfect for dunking. The stuffed peppers with rice were very satisfying and filling with a surprisingly crunchy rice texture. The peppers had a smokey roasted flavor that I now crave when I think of my time in Albania. I'll be sure to re-create these wonderful Albania stuffed peppers when the weather turns cold.
I also tried the roasted lamb shank, which I had a high expectations for, as I famously love lamb, but alas this was the case where the taste didn't meet my hopes as anticipated. From my experience beer ruled over wine across Albania and their local brew, Korca was a perfect compliment to their tasty traditional food.
As we roamed southern Albania to the coastal towns of Saranda and Ksamil, which is just 22 miles from the island of Corfu, where the greek influences were starting to show. Below is a simple yet satisfying pork gyro from one of the many "Fast Food" places sprinkled across Ksamil. These generous servings of Pork Gyros with extra thick greek yogurt fully satisfied our post-swim cravings.
Two of our favorite places near our apartment near Saranda were the "Kantina" street food truck and the King bar restaurant. Both provided super tasty food at extremely affordable prices. Most every morning we would stumble out of our apartment just when the Kantina lady started to set up the chairs and unfold the greek style blue and white checkered table cloths. She expertly prepared for us a greek style omelet with fresh garden tomatoes with feta and oregano, always with fresh warm and chewy pita bread which was seriously good. The chicken gyro pita was enjoyed at all times of the day, and it was an absolute top choice for the locals around sunset.
King bar restaurant offered simple grilled meats, pasta, and salads and would finish the meal with some fire-breathing Raki served with Greek oranges bathed in local Albania honey. Do yourself a favor, if you ever find yourself in Saranda try both of these places early in your visit as you'll want to return many times.
Sweets & Snacks
All across Albania, we enjoyed some tasty unique treats. While visiting the coastal town of Durres we stumbled across a fun boutique doughnut shop called Mommas Doughnuts. They served up some Simpsons-inspired berry cream-filled doughnuts which provided some much-needed energy to traverse the bunker-laden hills that are sprinkled around town.
Back at Era in Tirana, we enjoyed a Quince-based dessert with yogurt and local honey which was unexpectedly tasty. Around Tirana, we also sampled various baklavas and other pastries drenched in honey. We also sampled waffles with yogurt from Yoguteria, and oregano-dusted chips that provided an extra inch to our waists. All sweets were enjoyed with a delicious and addictive Caj Mahal Albanian local tea, which was a perfect end to a delicious culinary adventure across this hidden gem of a country.
About the author: Eric is a blogger, podcaster & educator with a passion for food, arts, and cultures around the world. Follow Eric on Instragram@wanderingwigloo or Facebook or our Instagram page@liveletroam & liveletroam.com
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