Sunday, 27 September 2015

Albania for foodie - what to eat and where to eat in Saranda

Already at out first dinner the travelling companion at my recent trip to Greece and Albania picked up on my love of food. She stared at me, head tilted and observed how "I really, really love my food". Towards the end of the holiday (after my week of octopus orgy) the interest gave way to stunned curiosity. "What on Earth are you going to be eating when you go back to Finland and can't have octopus every day?" she asked me. Well, maybe not every day, but I can tell you I do have a couple of kilos waiting in the freezer...!

The best thing about travelling is all the ideas and inspiration one gets to take home. And hey, can you think of a better way of holding onto the holiday mode than bringing those flavours alive in your own kitchen and having your friends over to feast on them?

I've already shared with you some of souvenirs from Greece: garlic and potato dip skordalia, Greek meatballs keftedakia, Mediterranean rice pilaf and Corfiot specialty of sofrito.

Now it's time to direct our hungry eyes towards the other destination of the trip, Albania

Albanian cuisine is a mixture of Mediterranean and Balkan traditions. There are differences between different parts of the country, too: in the South one gets to feast on fresh fish and seafood whereas in the North one gets to tuck into gjellës ja tavës, all those wonderfully comforting stews.

Italia has also left their influence on Albanian culinary legacy. Especially in the Southern Albania (like Saranda), popular among Italian tourists, British pubs with their English Breakfast Served All Day Long- menus are nowhere to be found. Pizzas and pastas on the other hand are everywhere.

Fish and seafood:

The beach boulevard in Saranda is full of restaurants of varying quality, invariably geared for the tourists. Though the prices are inexpensive, I recommend you skip them. 

If fish and seafood are what you're after, head over to Gërthëla, located on Rruga Ioanianet street adjacent to the boulevard. Selection is mind boggling even for an aficionado like yours truly. So, what did I do? Went for seconds. And thirds... 

Out of the city centre you'll find peshkaterias, taverns specialized in fish and seafood. One worth recommending is Taverna Peshkataria, located on Rruga Peshkatari, departing from the corner of Rruga Mitat Hoxha and Rruga Idriz Alidhima. The venue is very popular among the locals, so especially for lunch arrive early.

Closeby there's also Fish Land, another cheap and cheerful (though not particularly attractive) joint. 

Lamb, lamb, lamb:

Lamb is something that is consumed in Albania a lot. And damn, it is gooood. Tavë kosi, melt-in-your-mouth lamb and yogurt stew is one of the dishes worth a try. 

Offal is not awful:

Albania is one of those countries where the history has taught people to be frugal and make the most of every part of the animal.

So, the menus boast offal as well. Lamb liver is one of the staples that you can get either grilled (mëlci të skuqura gengji) and stewed in a clay pot (tavë dheume mëlҫi qengji). 

Another local specialty is kukurec, a porchetta-like roll of meaty deliciousness, stuffed intestines and spit-roasted into a glorious meat-lover's feast.

For (meat-eating) vegetarians:

Veggies are widely used in Albania, too but mostly they're pickled of stuffed with a meat and rice mixture, so vegetarians aren't really in for a treat. Stuffed peppers (spece të mbshur) and aubergines (patëllxhan të mbshur) are the most popular ones and can be found practically on every menu (and yes, soon on the blog, too!)

Cheese is another source of joy for the locals and they seem to have hundreds of varieties (to the eyes of a non-cheese-eater anyway...) so maybe it's possible to just eat that?

Traditional taverns are not easy to find in the Saranda city centre, but it doesn't mean they don't exist. I had a hunch and sure enough it didn't fail me this time either. In the corner of Rruga Ismail Tatzati and Rruga Abedin Dino you'll find Leo's Tavern, the highlight of my Albanian getaway. Blog's Instagram-followers (surely you are one of them?) have already been introduced to this gem. 

It's a family restaurant that ticked all my boxes: great, authentic food at amazingly cheap prices. Even with beverages the total of the meal will come to about €10.

The tiny restaurant has an even tinier yard that opens right next to the pavement and in the corner there's an open BBQ, which the Granddad would get going every evening with the help of a blow-dryer (!). Just imagine the scent wafting in the air...! This is one of those places where absolutely everything is delicious, but their lamb ribs (brinjë gengji zgare), grilled lamb liver and qoftes, the local take on meat balls are particularily delicious.

Somewhat confusingly all the restaurants seem to use the same photos on their menus. Another confusing thing was the pricing: with meats and seafood the price is listed per kilo, yet no-one would ever clarify how much I'd like to order. The serving size is about 300-400 grams. 

For our foodie trips for the first leg of the journey please see the following:





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