Tirana

Albanian cuisine today

more than a year ago

All that fat, all that sugar and all that drippy oil, once the stamp of 500 years of Ottoman gastronomic excess, if not decadence, had been purged from the cuisine along with other purges of Albania’s past, when the communist regime took over in 1945. And it lasted until the regime fell in 1991. Happily, the spare, semi-starved low calorie, low fat, low cholesterol, no-taste cuisine of that drab era is gone, and now that Albania is attempting to market-economize itself into shape, “food” is back. But nowhere near its former culinary opulence, if you want to characterize a cuisine formerly rich in fat, sugar and flours as such. Today there is hardly a housewife left in the country who knows how to make a decent byrek, baklava or revani dripping with butter. Forget the richness of syrups oozing like golden lava from the crisp layers of baked filo pastries, shanks glistening with spongy layers of crispy fat, mounds of rice overflowing with fruits and nuts like meteors shot from the sun. All that’s gone, it’s true, but there is a culinary comeback of sorts in restaurants, if not yet in homes.
The wonderful thing about returning to Albania last year after a ten-year absence when only green onions were sold in markets, was to find a thriving, bustling restaurant scene with people actually sitting in cafés munching on pizza or sticking their forks into mounds of spaghetti, heaps of French fries and pick on fish from the oceans and lakes of Albania’s rich marine life. Today, the streets are alive with the smell of food wafting in the air.

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