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Albania

Food, Dining, & Drinks

Dining Etiquette

Albanian Food - Tzatziki & rakia
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 to conversation 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 pork.

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.

Staple Foods

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

Drinks

In addition to the most common drinks, such as coffee and juice, Albania has a strong preference for mineral water, which is generally carbonated. They also enjoy carbonated soft drinks along with tea and a local buttermilk called dhalle.

While most Albanians are Muslim, few Albanians abstain from alcohol and those that do generally accept others drinking. Although no alcoholic beverages are exceedingly popular, for those who do drink, beer, raki (a brandy usually distilled from plums or grapes), cognac, and even some locally produced wines are the most commonly consumed. Imported beers, wines, and hard liquors are also available.

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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This page was last updated: March, 2013