Albania is situated in the Western part of the Balkans with a coastline on the Mediterranean sea. Bordering Greece and in close proximity to Italy, Albanian cuisine is rooted in traditional Mediterranean flavors with Ottoman influences and cooking traditions from the Balkan states.
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Most Popular Albanian Dishes
Individual regions within Albania each have their own culinary identity. From the mountainous areas in the northern part of the country to the rugged coastline along the Meditterrean sea, geography and the availability of ingredients play a crucial role in shaping Albania’s culinary scene.
Traditional Albanian dishes are made out of fresh, seasonal ingredients that are sourced locally. Dishes tend to be simple to prepare and grilling is one of the most common cooking methods.
Jani Me Fasule (White Bean Soup)
Jani me fasule is a white bean soup which varies in style depending on the region it is prepared in.
A family favorite throughout Eastern Europe, this traditional white bean soup goes by many names – jani me fasule in Albania, kuru fasulye in Turkey, fasolada in Greece or even fasoulia for the Arabic version.
Packed full of herbs including parsley and mint, jani me fasule packs a surprising punch, with a rich, aromatic flavor that makes it popular during the winter season.
Qumështor is a simple, baked custard dessert, made from just four ingredients: eggs, milk, flour, butter and sugar. Enjoyed in Orthodox neighborhoods in the south-eastern part of the country, qumështor is a traditional dessert that is eaten before the Lent and fasting season begins.
Once baked, the custard is served chilled and cut into slices. Some variations include specific flavorings such as vanilla extract, lemon and orange, but the original version remains the most popular.
Fërgesë Tirane is one of Albania’s national dishes – a type of vegetable tray-bake, consisting of baked vegetables and salted cheese for a rich, creamy texture. Originating in the Albanian capital of Tirana, the dish traditionally uses bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, locally made salted cottage cheese (or feta cheese as a substitute), basil, butter, flour, and olive oil. Baked in the oven inside little clay pots, the dish is served with crusty bread on the side once it has slightly cooled.
Flija is a type of layered pancake consisting of fine, crêpe-like layers of different pancake batter. Traditionally cooked using a saç (a large, round pan sat on hot coals and covered by a lid) over a number of hours, the flija is then sliced up and served with honey, greek yoghurt, or sour cream for a savory version.
The dish is so well-loved in Albania that the country even has a dedicated Flija Day, on March 18th, where families get together to prepare and eat flija.
Tavë Kosi, named Albania’s unofficial national dish, is a casserole dish, reminiscent of a Greek moussaka, that is made of seasoned lamb meat and rice, and topped with kos (soured goat milk).
The meal originated in the town of Elbasani in the 15th century but has become popular across Albania, Kosovo and Turkey, where it is known as Elbasan Tava and is garnished with bechamel sauce instead of kos.
The original dish has been adapted over time – the meat and rice filling now tends to be topped with a sauce of yogurt and eggs, rather than soured milk. Another popular variation, tavë kosi me mish pule, substitutes chicken meat for lamb.
Gjize is a dry curdled cheese prepared with yogurt and citric acid. It has the texture and flavor of sour ricotta, but it can be seasoned with garlic, herbs, salt or other spices.
Salty, spreadable and famously mooris, gjize can be eaten on its own, or as a filling for burek (a traditional Balkan pie dish made from filo pastry with a variety of meat and cheese fillings), or as part of the baked vegetable dish, fërgesë tirane, featured above.
Qofte fërguara are fried meatballs that are served as a main course or as an appetizer in both Albania and Kosovo. Reminiscent of the tastes and smells of Turkish street-food and barbecues, these meatballs are a firm favorite, found in eateries and grills across the country. Qofte are typically made using lamb, mixed with paprika and garlic and topped with a bright yoghurt source seasoned with lemon and mint.
Shapkat is a cheese and spinach casserole popular in the southern part of the country. The filling is typically made using a mixture feta cheese, dill and spinach, or other local greens, then topped with a corn pastry. Originating from the medieval city of Gjirokastra in the south of the country, shapkat is a great way to sneak healthy greens into family dishes!
Sarma, commonly known in the English-speaking world as stuffed vine leaves, is a dish of Turkish origin that consists of a rice, meat or vegetable filling, wrapped in vine, cabbage or other leafy vegetables like swiss chard. There are many variations of sarma but typical fillings include minced meat, rice or bulgur, seasoned with herbs, red pepper, paprika, ground sumac and tomato sauce.
Such is the popularity of these finger-sized parcels that several countries, from Greece to Azerbaijan to Afghanistan, claim this dish as their own. Whilst food historians trace sarma’s roots to before the Ottomon Empire, this delicate dish remains a favorite for special occasions and holidays – a little fiddly to prepare at times, but well the worth the effort!
Ayran is a yogurt-based drink made from yogurt, iced water and salt. Optional ingredients also include black pepper, lime juice and herbs such as dried mint. Generally served chilled, this summer drink is offers a refreshing accompaniment to an Albanian grill.
Tulumba, also known as Pomba, Bamiyeh or Balaḥ ash-Shām, is a sticky, deep-fried pastry dessert. Made from semolina, this Turkish street-food is popular throughout former Ottoman regions and Albania is no exception. The semolina dough is shaped into mini oblong balls, deep fried until crispy and then coated in syrup.
Byrek is a general term that covers a range of Balkan pastry dishes that feature fine layers of thin filo dough. The most popular flavor is spinach and ricotta, but byrek is versatile pie, which can include a range of mince meat, cheese and leafy green fillings depending on what is in season and sourced locally.
Revani is a traditional semolina cake which is popular throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean. Drenched in scented syrup and topped with nuts and/or yoghurt, revani is sweet but light, with a moist sponge filling.
Kozunak/Cozonac (Easter Bread)
Kozunak, also known as Cozonac or Easter Bread, is a traditional sweet bread, filled with raisins and soaked with rum, that is popular in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Albania and Moldova. A celebratory dish, kozunak is traditionally baked once a year at Easter to celebrate the end of lent and the 40 day fast. Loved for its incredibly soft and subtly sweet dough, kozunak remains a popular and impressive center piece on holiday tables.