Tasting Albanian cuisine is a bit like taking a tour the history of the Eastern Mediterranean. In terms of influences, you can find a little bit of everything: Italian, Greek, Slavic and Turkish elements pepper many recipes. The main ingredients in local cooking are fresh vegetables such as olives, green peppers, artichokes, carrots, tomatoes and cucumbers. The Albanian diet is also very rich in fruits like oranges, apples, nuts, pistachios and almonds. While we decided to focus on the region of Kelmendi for this week, Albanian cuisine as a whole also deserves a quick introduction.
One of the most renowned dishes is qoftes, meatballs prepared in different ways and common throughout all former territories of the Ottoman Empire. As typical of the Balkans, the king of street food is byrek with spinach, cheese and tomato; sometimes, meat and onions. Usually, it is served with the local variety of the Ayran called Dhallë. While at high altitude smoked meat is common, coastal cities including Vlorë and Sarandë have a taste for seafood. A peculiar variant is the city of Shkodr, where fishery happens in the eponymous lake. In addition to Italian and Albanian wines, raki is a common (and strong!) alcoholic drink usually prepared with grapes or plums. Typical as dessert are also baklava, gliko and tulumba.
The Kelmendi Region
“Kelmendi” is the name of a northern Albanian tribe and a stretch of land in the mountainous borderlands next to Montenegro, in the Malësia region. This tribe has historically always been Catholic, but it now includes a Muslim minority as well. Its name derives from Saint Clement, patron saint of the region. The tribe is still deeply connected to the ancient traditions of the nomadic shepherds that came before them, and their cuisine is very rich in typical dishes such as the Jardun (cheese made from boiled goat’s milk) and the Mishavin. Very traditional are also the bukë në vote, which is bread made by corn flour. A final common ingredient is the “nena”, a wild spinach of North Albania whose leaves are mainly used for the local version of the byrek.