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Food, Dining, & Drinks
Tzatziki & rakia
Albanians enjoy their food, but they don't take it
so seriously that there is a whole list of rules associated with it. In fact, dining
is much like Albanian life, as time takes a back seat and the food is meant to be
enjoyed with good company.
The strictest dining rules come not in the eating process, but in the circumstances
surrounding the actual meal. It is good policy to bring a gift if dining in a local's
home and the best gifts are items from your home country or gifts for their children
(if they have any). As most Albanians are Muslim, don't give a gift of alcohol;
although most Albanian Muslims do consume alcohol; it is not wise to guess and be
incorrect. The second important thing to note is that if you're dining in a
restaurant with business partners, or even just locals you'll likely see that
there is an odd "payment structure" in that your host will most likely
insist on paying for the first meal, but the next time you meet you are expected
to reciprocate the favor.
Eating does have its rules as well. Generally speaking though, these are very standard
to the rest of Europe: let your host show you your seat, eat in the continental
style (knife in the right hand, fork in the left), etc. It is also likely that you
are offered raki, the local alcohol. Not trying this can be offensive so
do take a sip, but be careful as it can be deceivingly strong.
Tipping has become common practice in Albanian restaurants
so if dining out, be sure to round up so the tip is about 10% of the bill for sit
down service at a nice restaurant.
History & Influences
Albania's cuisine started with the people themselves
and has slowly evolved throughout history, most substantially by the people the
Albanians have interacted with. As with most ethnic foods, the cuisine in Albania
begins with the locally available ingredients and this includes many common
Mediterranean ingredients today. Herbs like oregano, mint, and rosemary
were used to flavor the local meats and seafood that the people had access to.
The first great influence came from the Greeks who encouraged
the use of olive oil and olives. Their influence reached further than this though
and to this day many Albanian foods have Greek ties.
Later in history the region was ruled over by the Ottoman Turks
who again altered the diet, most noticeably by introducing Islam, which was adopted
by most people and enforced dietary restrictions, most notably the absence of eating
Since the Turks left, the food has been further influenced
by the Italians and various other people, particularly
their neighbors to the north. Despite these outside influences,
Albanian cuisine has remained fairly local and regional dishes tend to be
favored over national or international dishes by many people.
Albania doesn't have any true staple foods, although
there is a meat and a vegetable in nearly every dish. Along the coasts fish is often
times substituted for the meats.
Regional Variations & Specialties
Pace Koke: sheep head soup
Kukurec: sheep organs in stomach casing
In addition to the most common drinks, Albania has a
strong preference for mineral water, which is generally carbonated. They also enjoy
other carbonated soft drinks along with tea and a local buttermilk called dhalle.
While most Albanians are Muslim, not all strictly adhere
to the Islamic dietary law regarding abstinence from alcohol. Although no alcohol
beverages are exceedingly popular, for those who do drink, beer, raki (a
brandy generally distilled from plums or grapes), cognac, and even some locally
produced wines are the most common.
There is no consensus on the cleanliness of the tap water in
Albania. Some people say it's safe to use for small tasks like brushing
your teeth, but not for drinking, although if it is contaminated even a little water
will make you sick. The best course of action is to be extra cautious and avoid
the tap water entirely. If you do decide to drink the tap water, remember that many
people may have troubles adjusting to the local water, as it will most certainly
be different from what your system is used to.
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