The cuisine of Albania is influenced by Turkish, Italian cuisines, as well as ancient Greek and Illyrian, ancient Roman and Byzantine cooking. Every region in Albania and Kosovo has its own unique dishes. Albanian cuisine is characterised by the use of various Mediterranean herbs such as oregano, black pepper, mint, basil, rosemary and more in cooking meat and fish. Olive oil and butter is also a main ingredient in different dishes.
In Albania, meat (lamb, beef, rabbit and chicken) is used heavily in various dishes in most of the country. Seafood specialties are also common in the coastal areas such as Durrës, Vlorë, Shkoder, Lezhe and Sarandë.
Vegetables are used in almost every dish. Usually, Albanian farmers grow every vegetable present in the Mediterranean region and sell them at the local Farmers Market. Vegetables are brought fresh at the Farmers Market early in the morning and this market is opened everyday.
The main meal of the Albanians is lunch, which usually consists of gjellë, the main dish of slowly cooked meat, and a salad of fresh vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, and olives. The salad is dressed with olive oil, vinegar, and salt.
- Bread (Bukë) or Corn Bread (Bukë misri) – Are ever present on the Albanian table. Hence the expression for Going to eat a meal ( Albanian:për të ngrënë bukë) can be literally translated as Going to eat bread.
- Chicken livers
- Eggplant Appetisers
- Dolma – A family of stuffed vegetable dishes common in the Balkans and surrounding regions, Middle East, the Caucasus ( most of these regions having a common Ottoman heritage), Russia, Central and South Asia. Common vegetables to stuff include tomato, pepper, onion, zucchini, and eggplant. Grape or cabbage leaves wrapped around a filling, which are strictly speaking called sarma, are also often called dolma or yaprak dolma.
- Pickled cabbage (Laker Turshi)
- Fried sardines with lemon (Sarraga me Limon)
- Albanian-style meze platters that include prosciutto ham, salami and brined cheese, accompanied with roasted capsicum and/or green olives marinated in olive oil with garlic, and hummus.
- Papare: bread leftovers cooked with water, egg, and Gjize (a special type of Ricotta)
- Albanian potato salad
- Albanian tossed salad
- Bean salad
- Cabbage salad
- Tomato and pepper salad
- Bean Jahni Soup – Jani me Fasul – A traditional Albanian recipe for a white bean soup in a tomato and onion sauce.
- Albanian Potato and Cabbage Soup – In Albania, soups are served right after the appetisers. The consistency of foods in an Albanian meal increases gradually, from the starters to the meat dishes that have the greatest density.
- Soup with lemon –
- Tarator (or Taratur) – A traditional Balkan dish. It is a cold soup (or a liquid salad), popular in the summertime in Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia, southeastern Serbia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Armenia and in Cyprus (where it is known as Ttalattouri). It is made of yoghurt, cucumber, garlic, walnut, dill, vegetable oil, and water, and is served chilled or even with ice.
Fish in Albanian cuisine
- Oven-baked trout with onions and tomatoes
- Baked fish with olive oil and garlic
- Baked carp or eel
Meat in Albanian cuisine
- Tavë kosi, baked lamb and yogurt dish
- veal or chicken with walnuts*Fërgesë of Tirana with Veal
- Fried meatballs or, Qoftetë fërguara.
- Kolloface Korçe
- Veal with very large lima beans
- Harapash, which is polenta with the intestines of lamb, butter, cheese and cornflour
Vegetables in Albanian cuisine
- Dolma – (in Kosovo known as Sarma and in South Eastern Montenegro known as Japrak) – a family of stuffed vegetable dishes
- Baked leeks
- Fërgesë of Tirana with peppers
- Peppers stuffed with rice, meat and vegetables
- Stuffed eggplant with cheese
Pies in Albanian cuisine
- Byrek – Albanian vegetable pie, it can also have feta cheese, spinach, cabbage, tomatoes, or meat, its layered pie also known as pite or pita.
- Kungullur – Pastry layers filled with mashed pumpkin, butter, salt and sugar
- Bakllasarëm – A traditional food prepared in Kosovo and Albania, its layered pie also known as pite or pita (Byrek) without anything inside, which is covered with yoghurt and garlic, and then heated again. It is eaten for lunch.
Desserts in Albanian cuisine
The desserts most common in Albania are made throughout the Balkans:
- Halvë – Halva, hallvë in Albanian, is usually eaten as a dessert-based meal, that is, with no entrees or appetisers consumed prior. The majority of halva in Albania is flour halva, although home-cooked semolina halva and shop-produced sesame halva are also consumed. Wheat flour is usually used, although corn flour halva is also common.
- Turkish Delight –
- Shëndetlie me mjaltë
- Tres leches
- Tollumba- Fried dough pieces in syrup
Drinks in Albanian cuisine
Mineral water is one of the most preferred non-alcoholic drinks in Albania, along with carbonated beverages. Some of these are produced locally and some are imported from abroad.
- Carbonated and mineral waters
- Milk (Gjizë is a byproduct)
- Yoghurt (Kos)
- Mountain Tea (Çaj Mali)
- Various fruit juices and soft drinks
- Albanian buttermilk (Dhallë)
- Beer ( local Birra Tirana, and Birra Korça)
- Cognac (local Konjak Skënderbeu)
- Albanian wine
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions
Despite their poverty, Albanians are exceptionally generous and hospitable. A person invited to dinner will be given enough to “feed an army,” even though the host may go hungry the next day. It is not unusual for an Albanian family to spend a month’s salary to feed a visitor. Meals for guests or for ceremonial occasions such as weddings usually involve copious amounts of meat, washed down with Albanian raki , an alcoholic beverage. Animals were formerly slaughtered and roasted on a spit for religious holidays such as the Muslim celebration of Great Bayram and the Christian feast days of Saint Basil on 1 January, Saint Athanasius on 18 January, Saint George on 23 April and 6 May, Saint Michael on 29 September, Saint Nicholas on 6 December, and Christmas on 25 December. These customs have largely died out, although some regional dishes have survived. The Orthodox of southeastern Albania still eat qumështor , a custard dish made of flour, eggs, and milk, before the beginning of Lent. During the annual spring festival ( Dita e Verës ), in central Albania on 14 March, the women of Elbasan and the surrounding regions bake a sweet cake known as ballakum Elbasani . Members of the Islamic Bektashi sect mark the end of the ten-day fasting period of matem with a special ashura (pudding) made of cracked wheat, sugar, dried fruit, crushed nuts, and cinnamon.