Albania is one of the most ancient countries of Europe and there are tracks of both oriental and western cultures and culinary art as a border between the east and the west. The very favourable climatic conditions of the country create the opportunity for the cultivation of almost all the types of agricultural products. The variety of the vegetables and fruits is particularly of a significant amount. They are a daily-life article and are consumed naturally in the form of separate food, with meat or as canned food.
A series of foods are prepared with the same technology, even though they contain different ingredients. Thereby, the following food groups have been highlighted as they are found in all the peoples of the Balkans: fried cheese and curds, dishes prepared in casseroles, pickles, stuffed grape leaves, steak, chopped steaks, meatballs, etc. Mixtures of vegetables, musaka, meatballs are dishes adapted from the oriental cuisine.
A significant role regarding the quality of food tasting is played by the seasonings and the spices. Albanian kitchens are characterized by the hot seasonings, spices, sour taste of lemon, tomato, vinegar or yoghurt.
In the traditional dishes, the hot flavour from the almost inexistent up to the strong spicy one is benefited from the use of garlic or hot pepper. Even the local aromatic seasonings such as parsley, mender (mint and spearmint), dell, bay leaves, basil, celery, rosemary, etc. are preferable
Milk, dairy products and eggs are widely used, being daily food. Yoghurt is an irreplaceable albuminoidal food, with a significant biological value and very good aromatic values and taste. Apart from being consumed naturally, yoghurt is consumed as a supplement for lots of foods, dough and cakes.
Another dairy product is even dhalla (yaran), which is consumed with pleasure through all the seasons, particularly during the hot summer days. The cheese is organized in different types according to the milk from which it is produced. The famous white cheese, particularly the southern one, made from the milk of the sheep has a considerable place in Albania kitchen.
The variety of the desserts is also very rich. The desserts with milk, creams, fruit juices, the desserts with sherbet (baklava, sheqepare, kadaif), hashuret, syltiash, etc. are used. Also, another common dessert is hallva and hasudja. Boza, produced mainly in the northern part of the country (Kukes), is very popular. Its raw material is corn and it is used as a refreshing drink during summe
Albania has a tradition even in the production of the alcoholic drinks. The traditional alcoholic drink is raki produced from the grape. A very popular and overrated raki is the one produced in the artisanal way from the vineyards in the area of Skrapar and Permet at the southern part of the country. In the areas with a cold climate, such as in Dibra, Korca and Pogradec, even the production of wine from plums (shliva) is popular.
As the old geographer Straboni would describe Iliria, he would state: “This country is warm and fertile because it is full of good olive groves and vineyards. The Illyrians used to export wine to Rome in wooden containers”. With regard to the development of the Vineyards, there is other evidence such as the coins of Dyrrah and Apollonia as well as the amphora which used to be exploited for the transportation of wine. They were found in the Illyrian graveyards of Çimanka in Kukes, in the Illirium castle of Xibri (Mat) as well as in the Illyrian town of Gajtan (Shkodra). During the Byzantine ruling (VIIVIII century), the viniculture became the main economic activity, where wine would bring incomes from the export.
Characteristics of the Albanian cuisine spread according to the regions.
1.Region of Northern Albania
As the corn is highly cultivated in this area, its flour is used not only as the basic food for bread, but even for the preparation of different traditional salty and sweet dishes
The cold climate of this area makes it possible for every family to have some food stock that is preserved for a long time, such as pasterma (dried meat), stuffed intestine, trahana. jufka, etc., which are used during winter time. These elements are produced in an artisanal way in every house in the north.
Among the traditional dishes of this region we can mention: birjan Peshkopie, petulla të Lumës, jufkat, tavë e Gorës, paçe e Kosovës, suxhuk i Gjakovës, harapash or memëlikë, qeshqek with chicken, çervish, gurabie with corn flour, qumështor with corn flour, haxhimakulle, etc.
The cuisine of Shkodra has a special place in this region, where among the most popular dishes we can mention: corba shkodrane, meat stew (ram meat is cooked in little fat and the followings are added: onions, garlic, dried plums without seeds or pistil, sauce, a little sugar, salt, pepper
The richness of this area with salty and sweet waters, as well as the fishing tradition popular since the Illyrian times makes it famous not only for the abundance of the products from these waters but even for the traditional way how they are cooked. The most recognized ones are: carp in very stew, mullet baked under the tile, stew eel, dried saraga, etc
Even the eggplants stuffed with cheese, parsley and eggs are widely used and traditional
We cannot ignore the reserve of KuneVanit in the district of Lezha and the surrounding lagoons which are rich in water poultry and wild animals such as: ducks, geese, woodcock, pheasants, cormorants, wild rabbits etc. Their hunting is highly requires for the delicious meat of these wild poultry and animals have, which can be tasted in the restaurants of this area.
A special fruit in this region is the pomegranate of Shkodra with big juicy and sweet seeds
2. Region of Middle Albania
Among the traditional dishes of this region we can mention: Elbasani casserole cream, Tirana fried cheese and curd, pie with dry pastry dough casting, turkey with pershesh, birjan with milk and rice, qumështor Myzeqeje (yshmer) etc. Among the traditional dessert is ballokume which are typical of Elbasan. They are prepared by the local housewives professionally on the celebration of Summer Day (14th March), but even on the events of family
The use of the entrails of the ruminants and cattle in the preparation of different dishes and starters is a tradition in this region. A plate with fried livers, kidneys and hearts of the cattle, or lamb head accompanied with grape raki, would impress everyone with their taste.
The tradition of the production of raki, wine (according to the variety of the grape from which it is produced), the juices of non alcoholic fruits and the production of the jams and compote with the fruits that are produced are characteristic for this region.
The region of Berat has plantations with the biggest surface planted with figs. Therefore, for the locals, the preparation of fig jam and gliko (jam) is a tradition. The figs of Rroshnik (Berat) are mentioned for their quality. They are used dried, in strings or buk fiket (minced fig in form of bread and dried in a clean environment).
In this region, the area of Myzeqe is mentioned for breeding the turkeys, consequently it is recognized for the preparation of the turkey with pershesh (small pieces of grain or corn bread). This traditional specialty is prepared throughout the country but it is more delicious in this area, where all the guests might enjoy the restaurants which are there.
3. Region of Southern Albania
The types of the ruminants grown biologically in this area compose the basics of the raw material for the production of dairy products. The characteristic dairies of this region, particularly in Gjirokastra and Delvina are known for the production of the different kinds of soft and tough cheese with a very high quality and very delicious.
This assortment but even the cottage cheese (a byproduct if milk or yoghurt) have one of the main position in the food menu of the population not only in this region but even in the middle Albania and beyond. This region is popular for the sheep yoghurt with a compact consistency that permits us to cut it with a knife.
The climate in the costal part of this region favours the growth of the citrus and olives. In every family as well as in all the restaurants of this region the olive is served as a starter in the form of a sole salad or accompanied with other vegetables.
The tradition of the production of raki, wine, according to the variety of the grape produced in Narta, Skrapar, Permet, Himara, Leskovik, Kelcyre, Pogradec, Delvina is a characteristic for this region. During the random diggings in the village Lokove of Gjirokasra, two big stones were found in the shape of the washtub
Apart from the production of the alcoholic drinks, the production of rehani in Skrapar is very popular and traditional. This is a non-alcoholic drink produced from the liquid of the grape. Also the preparation of glikos in this region according to the type of the fruits is the tradition of the population in Permet. Among the most special ones is the gliko of nuts. Furthermore, the production of raki from the mulberry is a characteristic for this zone (Erseke, Leskovik)
The Albanian Riviera lies along the westsouthern part of the country, where the combination of the fresh mountainous air with the warmth of the sea makes it the pearl of the touristic destinations of Albania, which are preferable not only for the wonderful climate but even for the very delicious food of this Region. On the way to the Riviera, along the seaside, there are several restaurants which prepare plates whose basis is the fish and just-fished seafood. Among them, the quality and the taste of the shrimps, cuttlefish, squids and mussels is impressive.
Qafa e Llogarase (Neck of Llogara) as the only terrestrial passage towards Riviera is an eating-relaxing station, where the tourists might enjoy the typical cuisine of the region, such as the meat baked in the broach, the warm plate with harapash (prepared with corn flour) with the entrails of the lambs, jelly with honey and nuts as well as other traditional dishes.
The meat of this area is the most delicious one throughout the country. The approach to the sea and the quality of the pastures give an incomparable taste, particularly to the lamb of Karaburun and to the surrounding highlands. It is prepare in a skewer (an entire lamb) on the ember or in the oven. Even the pasterma (dried meat) is characteristic for the cold regions of this area. It is tinned meat in dry conditions, cooked with beans and it is used widely not only among the families but it is found even in restaurants.
Other traditional dishes, which are highly preferred even by vegetarians as no types of meat are used: riceballs (qifqi), pie of Lunxhi (koftopite), rice with rosnice (dough prepared with flour, eggs, milk, which are all prepared in dried balls), pie with beans (Korce), fake meatballs with garlic and yoghurt used in the region of Gjirokastra in weddings by the end of eating to digest the food.