The Albanian cuisine is a blend of Balkan, Greek, Italian, and Mediterranean cuisines. Here, you will discover everything a tourist needs to know about Albanian dishes and food. We will cover portion sizes and the must-try dishes for inexperienced travelers.
Distinctive features of Albanian cuisine
It is important to clarify some points that will help paint a complete picture of Albanian cuisine and what to expect.
Albanian cuisine: General facts
- First and foremost, Albanians are very particular about cleanliness when it comes to food. When you arrive in Albania, certain aspects may surprise or even deter you.
- For example, you may notice a lot of trash on the streets and a general lack of tidiness. However, Albanian homes and kitchens are impeccably clean.
- In a bakery, for instance, you may receive a “byrek” wrapped in a paper envelope with bare hands, and then the same hands take your money.
- Those who have visited Serbia, for instance, have high expectations for Balkan cuisine, and as a result, Albanian cuisine. They anticipate a large amount of meat in their dishes. However, you won’t find Serbian dishes like “pljeskavica,” “ćevapi,” or “belo meso” here. Although Serbia is nearby, Albania has its own culinary traditions.
- You will find more Balkan dishes on the menu at cafes in the northern part of the country, closer to the border with Montenegro.
- On the other hand, the southern region, near Greece, is home to a significant population of ethnic Greeks, resulting in a strong influence of Greek cuisine. For example, you can find Greek tzatziki in any eatery in Saranda and Ksamil, but you won’t come across it in the northern part of the country.
- Italian pizza, on the other hand, is available everywhere, even in the smallest villages.
- Portions in Albanian cuisine are large, but not enormous. You won’t go hungry. However, tourists usually expect Balkan cuisine to come in portions the size of a bus. It’s not the case here.
- Only salads are served in large portions. You can usually share one salad between two people, while each person orders their own main course.
Interesting to know:If Albanian cuisine is a mix of neighboring cuisines, the Albanian language is something unique. It doesn’t resemble any other language and is quite complex. I recommend reading an article about the Albanian language for tourists, as it provides many tips for visiting cafes and restaurants.
Ingredients in Albanian cuisine
I love Albanian cuisine because it doesn’t have extremely spicy dishes like in Southeast Asia. Moreover, the dishes are made from ingredients that we are familiar with.
All Albanian dishes include the following ingredients:
- Meat, with beef, lamb, and chicken being the most common.
- Since over 60% of the population in the country practices Islam, pork dishes are less common. However, you can easily buy pork in stores or at the market.
- Here is a useful article about religion in Albania. If you don’t feel like reading it, I’ll tell you the main idea: all three religions coexist peacefully in the country without any conflicts or issues. Pope Francis even praised Albania as an example to the world back in 2014.
- Albanians love vegetables in any form—salads, stewed, or roasted. The essential vegetables are:
- Bell peppers (paprika)
- and lots of greens (note that cilantro is hardly used here).
- Albanians love vegetables in any form—salads, stewed, or roasted. The essential vegetables are:
- Salted cheese is highly popular in Albania, such as feta, brine cheese, and all its variations.
- Even in small shops, you will find a wide selection of bulk salted cheeses. Here is a useful article about stores and shopping in Albania.
- Most cheeses are made from sheep’s milk, but there is also a smaller selection made from cow’s milk.
- Let’s put it this way—there are dishes made from fish and seafood. However, fish is more expensive than meat in Albania, so fish dishes are less common.
- To find out where and how to buy fish, read the article about the country’s markets. It contains a lot of interesting information about fruits and vegetables as well.
- If you have an apartment with a kitchen and a fish market nearby, you can easily buy and cook shrimp or sea bass.
- And of course, olive oil, the cornerstone of every dish.
Traditional Albanian Dishes
Here is a list of traditional Albanian dishes with a brief explanation. I would also like to emphasize what you must try in Albania.
Albanian Cuisine: First Courses
In Albania, there isn’t a culture of daily soup consumption. Traditional cuisine offers only a few soup options, and in any restaurant, you will always find the so-called “soup of the day.”
- Supe Peshku – Fish soup. It’s a soup made from the fish that fishermen caught today. Typically, the soup includes the heads and tails of sea bass.
- Tarator – Similar to TarTar. This is a purely Balkan cold soup enjoyed throughout the region during hot weather. It consists of yogurt with cucumber and herbs.
- Soup of the day – A regular meaty, hearty soup made from whatever ingredients are available in the kitchen.
A plate of hot food and a bowl of salad—that’s the real Albanian meal. The hot dish can simply consist of grilled meat and nothing more.
- Grilled meat: beef, lamb, fillet, ribs, and so on. There are many options.
- Everything is incredibly delicious. Perhaps the most unusual grilled dish is the head of a lamb, which is cooked on the grill alongside chicken. Everything else will be familiar to tourists.
- Tave Kosi – This is the true gem of Albanian cuisine that everyone must try.
- Prepared in a small clay pot and usually served on a plate.
- It’s lamb slow-cooked in a pot, covered with a yogurt and egg cap, and garnished with plenty of greens, garlic, and, of course, olive oil.
- It’s incredibly tasty and tender.
- Musaka. There is an ongoing debate about whether it’s a Greek or Albanian dish. But let’s not argue. In Albania, musaka is an Albanian dish.
- It’s a layered vegetable pie, a kind of casserole with meat.
- Personally, musaka reminds me of Italian lasagna, but instead of lasagna sheets, they use eggplants and tomatoes. The dish is topped with cheese and baked in the oven.
- Highly recommended!
- Fërges Tiranes (named after the capital city of Albania). This dish often accompanies meat as a side. I would say Fërges Tiranes is something between a casserole, musaka, and vegetable stew. It doesn’t contain meat, but it has three essential ingredients:
- Paprika, tomatoes, and soft brine cheese. They may also include onions, rice, carrots, and eggplants.
- All these ingredients are stuffed into bell peppers and baked.
- It’s a fantastic option for vegetarians.
- Qofte – Kofta. These are small meatballs or sausages grilled only over charcoal. The ground meat, either beef or lamb, is prepared by hand without using a meat grinder. It’s finely chopped with a knife, seasoned with salt and spices, and the juiciest koftas are ready.
- Although it’s a Turkish dish, it’s very popular in Albania.
Albanian Cuisine: Fast Food
The fast food situation in the country is quite interesting. In Albania, the use of GMOs is prohibited by law. Therefore, there is still no McDonald’s in the country. KFC, on the other hand, has a single restaurant in the center of Tirana.
Albanian fast food is healthy and nutritious, if we can consider buns and puff pastry healthy. Throughout the country, there are numerous bakeries that not only bake fresh bread but also traditional pastries. These bakeries are usually called BYREK or BYREKTORE. They represent the symbol of Albanian fast food:
- Byrek – This is a pie made from puff pastry with various fillings to choose from:
- Meat, cheese (brine cheese), spinach, and tomatoes.
- A piece of this pie is inexpensive yet very satisfying and delicious.
- Arguably, it’s the most popular and simple snack in Albania when traveling between attractions.
- As a continuation of byrek, there is also a spinach pie called Pispili. It’s borrowed from Greek cuisine, where this pie is known as Spanakopita. It’s less common but equally delicious, especially in the southern part of the country.
- It contains a lot of spinach and feta cheese.
Albanian Cuisine: Seafood
Albania is a maritime country with access to two seas, the Adriatic and the Ionian, despite its modest size. However, seafood is less popular here. It’s more expensive, and fish dishes are less common on menus. The primary method of preparing seafood is borrowed from Mediterranean cuisine—grilling.
- Any sea fish, such as sea bream, sea bass, barracuda, or dorado, can be prepared on the grill with vegetables. It will look something like this:
- Shrimp, squid, and octopus are all grilled. To be honest, I have nothing against it; for me, grilled seafood is the most delicious. The photo below shows grilled octopus in one of the restaurants in Saranda. The portion costs $10.
- In Albania, there are also mussel and oyster farms, which means there are eateries that serve these dishes.
- You can find detailed information on where to find such farms and what they offer on the menu in the article about the city of Ksamil and its attractions. But dishes like the ones shown in the photos below are already considered Albanian specialties.
Albanian Cuisine: Salads
Salads made from fresh vegetables hold a significant place on any Albanian table. In fact, the entire list of salads in Albania consists of:
- Greek salad.
- Caesar salad.
- Arugula salad.
Everything is always cut into large pieces. The dressing, in the form of olive oil, salt, and pepper, is provided on the table for you to dress the salads yourself. In the south of Albania, Greek appetizer tzatziki is also popular. It’s a spread made from yogurt, garlic, cucumber, and more. I highly recommend it as well.
What Should a Tourist Try in Albanian Cuisine?
Here is my personal ranking of what a tourist must try while traveling in Albania:
- Grilled meat. Simply ask for the most delicious grilled meat in any restaurant. Trust me, it will be cooked to perfection.
- Tavë Kosi – This is the main symbol of Albanian cuisine, alongside Fërges Tiranes.
- Also, make sure to try different variations of Byrek with various fillings at different places and choose your favorite. I love it with meat, while my wife adores the spinach filling. When our friends visited us, they enjoyed it with tomatoes.
- Seafood is optional. I can’t call it historically Albanian food. Rather, it’s cuisine from the entire Mediterranean region. If you love seafood, octopus grilled in Albania is always incredibly delicious.
- As for what to pair it with: Albanian beer, homemade raki, or wine from local vineyards—read about it in the extensive article on beverages in Albania.
About desserts:I intentionally didn’t mention desserts in Albania because Albanians aren’t big on sweets. Their desserts mainly consist of honey, fig or grape jam. However, Albanians consume a lot of fruit for breakfast and as snacks. You can read all about fruits in Albania here.
In conclusion, Albanian cuisine is represented by just one or two dishes that are unique to this country. Everything else is a fusion of neighboring cuisines and the Mediterranean region as a whole. However, harmful foods and fast food are absent. The foundation of every dish is meat, fresh vegetables, brine cheese, and olive oil.
Wishing you a delightful gastronomic journey through Albania!
Resources to help you plan your dream trip to Albania
- Flights at the best prices with juicy discounts
- Car rental in Albania (cheaper – only by bus):
- Hotels and apartments throughout the country: Booking
- Tours, excursions and activities (including extreme ones):
- Comprehensive travel insurance: EKTA
- eSIM virtual sim card in Albania
- Taxi and transfers: Intui.Travel