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Food in Albania: a traveller's guide

Maysie Dee

Contributing writer

If you haven’t sampled Albanian food yet, you’re in for a real treat! Albanian cuisine, like Albania itself, is a fusion of many influences, including Greek, Turkish, and Italian.

Fresh food is abundant in Albania and slow food is in, as it has always been. Of course, you’ll be able to grab a quick “fast food” snack or meal in Albania, but even Albanian fast food is fresh!

Punctuated by herbs, spices, and olive oil from the Adriatic coast, Albanian dishes are fragrant and richly flavoured. In general, Albanian cuisine is meat-based, lamb being the first choice, with beef and chicken also featured in regional dishes.

Salads, grilled vegetables, and speciality sides round out an Albanian meal. Desserts, always a favourite, can be purchased at pastry shops or Pasticeris throughout cities and towns, with restaurants featuring a few freshly made desserts on their menus. 

Eating out in Albania

Restaurants throughout Albania are rarely closed during daylight hours, so food is always available! Unless you’ve entered an upscale restaurant where a maître d' is present, you’ll seat yourself. At tavernas and casual restaurants, menus are often on the tables.

Complimentary bread usually comes with salad or a full dinner, but is not automatically given gratis upon seating. 

Albanians are very mellow about dinner times, and can linger for hours at a restaurant meal. Rarely, if ever, will you be expected to cut your meal or your coffee time short for lack of space.

You won’t be offered a bill until you ask, and you can make the universal “writing-on-air” sign to signal your waiter that you’re ready to pay.

Drinking water

As a rule, drinking water is not complimentary, unless you request it. When asked if you want “water,” they are asking if you want to buy a bottle of water. Albania has a few local springs that produce excellent mineral water, bubbly or flat.

Otherwise, if you’re okay with tap water, ask, and the waiter will bring it, gratis (not recommended in the capital city, Tirana, but possible in other cities and towns in Albania, ask the locals). 

Heads-up: Most restaurants and cafes in Albania do not use any type of water filters for their tap water.

Tipping in Albania

Tipping is not mandatory in Albania, unless you are at an upscale restaurant, consuming a several-course dinner with drinks and dessert, or if you have a large party with lots of special requests.

If someone has gone out of his/her way to provide extra special service or accommodate unusual orders, then, a tip of 10% is appreciated.

In cafes, where an espresso costs a mere .50-60 Euros, many tourists suggest rounding up to the next higher bill. In this case, you’d pay with a 100 lek note (101.50 Euros), but then you’d be tipping over 40%. 

Even though the actual amount that equals 40% might not mean much to you as a tourist, an Albanian is generally not able to tip like that for one coffee. This kind of tourist “overtipping” impacts the general economy and is not sustainable for locals who also might frequent the same cafe or restaurant.

Meals in Albania

Breakfasts in Albania are light, with most locals opting for bread and coffee for breakfast. Cafes might offer croissants (often referred to as brioche), byrek, and other pastries during early breakfast hours. For a traditional Albanian breakfast snack, you might choose petulla, deep-frieddough treats similar to beignets.

If your hotel or guesthouse offers breakfast, you could receive a fuller Mediterranean style offering of eggs, toast, jams, yoghurt, fresh sliced tomato, cucumber, cheeses, fruits and, occasionally, breakfast sausages.

If you lunch in a more traditional setting, such as a farm-to-table agri-tourism venue, (of which there are many, due to Albania’s focus on fresh local produce) it will be a large and lavish affair, with many courses.

Albanian taverna-type restaurants are open all day and evening, offering everything from a quick lunch pizza to filling meat or seafood dishes, sides and salads.

Dinners are much the same, although, these days, Albanians might have a lighter dinner, with most dining around 8pm.

Vegetarians will find options available as sides, such as stuffed peppers or eggplant (rice or cheese), grilled veggies, soups, savoury stuffed pastries/pies, and the traditional Albanian signature condiment dish, fergese, along with freshly baked bread.

And, of course, there’s always pizza, available, with lots of interesting vegetarian toppings.

Vegans will have a more difficult time, but grilled vegetables, stuffed rice peppers, potato dishes (french fries are everywhere!), fresh bread and enormous salads are good choices.

Where and when to eat

Cafes open around 7:00 am, and in more touristy areas they might offer coffee/croissant breakfast specials, or have some pastries on hand. Be sure to get there early, as they often sell out – coffee/croissant is popular in Albania!

Bakeries

Small bakeries offer freshly baked breads in various shapes and sizes, including personal pizza-breads, from early morning until 8-9pm, along with a wide variety of cakes, pastries, and cookies.

Some bakeries are also labeled as “Byrektori” offering savoury byrek (burek, or sometimes called lakror), which are stuffed pastry rolls, along with other bread items.

Bakeries and byrektori might also sell bottled drinks, such as “dhalle” or “ayran” yogurt drink, the traditional companion beverage to byrek. It’s salty, similar to kefir or a savoury Indian lassi.

Local bakeries and byrektori are always take-away, with a rare table or two.

In larger cities, you’ll find spacious sit-down bakery-gelateria-cafes, where you can buy all manner of sweet goodies, sometimes including chocolates and candies, plus coffee drinks. These pastry shops rarely offer bread loaves.

Gelaterias

Little gelato shops and stands dot the city centres throughout Albania… always in summer, sometimes open even in winter! You can thank that Italian influence for the creamy gelato that has become an Albanian favourite. Expect to find many, many gelato stands, rather than Western-style ice cream shops.

What to eat in Albania

All along Albania’s sea coast, restaurants and tavernas will offer a catch of the day (sold by the kilo), along with shellfish and other fish dishes.

The northern part of Albania is highly influenced by its Italian neighbours, so, Italian pasta dishes and pizza are ubiquitous.

In the south, as you approach the Greek border, you’ll find souvlaki (skewered grilled meat), shwarma, and byrek (spinach, spinach/cheese or meat-filled pastries) more prevalent.

Other than in the capital city, Tirana, you won’t find many options for additional popular foreign food restaurants such as Indian, Chinese or Thai.

Albanian specialities include:

  • Koftë – ground lamb meatballs flavoured with fresh herbs and spices

  • Tavë Kosi – lamb and yoghurt/egg casserole with rice, garlic, oregano and other spices, baked in a clay pot

  • Byrek – baked pie, made with thin layers of phyllo dough, filled with cheese, spinach, meat, pumpkin or beetroot

  • Fërgesë - a vegetable dish made with red peppers, tomatoes, and onions, and baked with local white soft cheese, similar to feta

  • Tarator – cucumber and yoghurt side dish

  • Chicken Jufka – baked chicken casserole with onions and home-made egg noodles

Desserts

Albanian desserts are super sweet and rich… here are some favourites:

  • Baklava – This sticky sweet treat of walnuts, layered between phyllo pastry sheets and covered in honey syrup, reflects the Turkish influence in Albania’s culinary history.

  • Shёndetlie (Walnut Cake) – Rich, dense cake made with yoghurt and ground walnuts, then soaked in honey syrup.

    Petulla – Deep-fried little doughnuts made with yeasted dough and covered with powdered sugar, usually eaten for breakfast.

  • Trilece – An Albanian version of Tres Leches cake, famous in Spain. Basic vanilla sponge cake prepared with three types of milk (whole milk, sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk) with caramel topping.

  • Revani – Similar to Shёndetlie, this dense cake is often lemon-flavoured, with a covering of lemon-sugar syrup creating a pudding-like texture.

What to drink in Albania

Coffee in Albania

Perhaps the most stunning aspect of Albanian cuisine is Albanians’ love of coffee. Even more far-reaching than in nearby Italy, you’ll find a coffee shop on almost any corner of every Albanian city. Each simple bar/cafe offers delicious and inexpensive espresso, macchiato, and cappuccino, with fancier coffee drinks appearing in more trendy venues.

Cafes will also offer Turkish tea (black tea) and one or two types of herbal tea, such as Çaj Mali (Chai-Mah-lee), Albanian mountain  from the native Sideritis plant, also called ironwort, known for its health benefits.

Albanian Wine

Albanian wines are among the oldest in the world and throughout the countryside and within cities, you’ll see stands of beautiful grape vines on private properties, large and small.

With four wine regions in the country, wine is a popular beverage at lunch or dinner. Favourites are red wine made from indigenous Kallmet grapes, and a variety of white, rose and chardonnay offerings from independent vineyards throughout Albania.

Beer

Beer is a favourite, and Albanians are proud of their local beers, especially Tirana Beer and Korca Beer. The Korce beer festival every November in Albania is the largest festival in the country, with over 100,000 attendees expected each year.

Raki

Raki, the ubiquitous Albanian home-brew, is a staple and just about anyone you meet happily makes their own. This inexpensive and super-potent (usually 80-proof) clear grape brandy is sipped in cafes from morning on, accompanied by espresso and water. It’s also served with dinner.

Take it easy when you first drink raki. It’s never gulped (as in shots), as it really packs a punch.

Trendy restaurants and bars offer interesting fruit or spice-infused versions of raki. These artisanal varieties add a nice flavour profile to an otherwise intensely strong beverage that tastes mostly… like alcohol!

Average costs for food in Albania

  • Bottled bubbly mineral water 1.5 litres: 65 ALL (€.61)

  • Espresso: 40 -60 ALL  (€.37 - €.56)

  • Makiato: 60 ALL (€.56)

  • Cappuccino: 120 -150 ALL ( €1.13 – €1.42)

  • Croissant: 80 – 120 ALL (€.75 – €1.13)

  • Beer, 1 pint: 235 ALL ( €2.22)

  • Glass of wine: 200 ALL ( €1.89)

  • Lunch for two in a nice restaurant: 3.060 ALL  €29.63)

  • Burek: spinach filled, one large piece 80 -120 ALL (€.75 – €1.13)

  • Grilled veggies: 300 - 400 ALL (€2.84 – €3.79)

  • Large pepperoni pizza: 650 ALL (€6.15)

  • Revani cake: 150 ALL (€1.42) slice

  • Chicken filet parmesan: 650 ALL (€6.15)

  • Oven-baked sea bass with vegetables: 1100 ALL (€10.42)

Planning a trip to Albania? Read our other Albania travel guides

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Maysie Dee

Author - Maysie Dee

Maysie Dee is a freelance writer, content editor, and recipe creator. She and her husband have travelled across the world for decades as natural product consultants, collecting stories along the way.

You can read about natural remedies from distant places through their website, the Enchanted Spicebox, plus exotic international recipes on yummynaturalrecipes.com

Last Updated 9 September 2023

Ksamil Beach, Albania on a summer's day

Albania

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