Byrek, Albania’s most popular “fast food”, a triangular filo pastry snack filled with cheese, spinach or meat.
The Overlook neighborhood in Waterbury will see an explosion of Albanian culture on display this weekend during the First Annual Albanian American Labor Day Festival, on Columbia Blvd. There will be traditional Albanian food and music and the event will be staged from 11 am to 11 pm on both Saturday September 3rd, and Sunday September 4th. The festival will be at the Albanian Community Center at 106 Columbia Boulevard, and there is free admission and parking.
(The following description of Albanian cuisine is from the website www.lalzitbay.com, which is a resort on the Adriatic Coast in Albania)
Albanian food is generally simple, healthy and delicious. It uses many familiar Mediterranean ingredients, such as olives, tomatoes and peppers, taking influences from Greece, Turkey and Italy but adding a local twist. With little imported food, and most domestic produce being organic and seasonal, the Albanian people make the most of their home-grown ingredients, creating flavoursome and uncomplicated meals that match the time of year.
With increased tourism and the creation of international-standard holiday destinations such as the 5-star Lalzit Bay Resort & Spa on the Adriatic coast, undoubtedly the variety of food available in the country is set to increase. Currently though, with the exception of Tirana (where there is already a good choice of foreign cuisines available in restaurants), in most places, visitors will enjoy local dishes and the country’s splendid natural larder – vegetables, meat and fish – is sufficient to create a wide range of tasty dishes.
Lunch and dinner are meals that the Albanians love to take their time over, in common with many other people in the Mediterranean region. Breakfast is a much simpler affair – perhaps toast or bread, an omelette or cheese and cooked meats, with a cup or two of coffee to kick-start the day.
A main meal will often consist of a cooked dish accompanied by a fresh salad or vegetables and bread. This might be gjellë, slow-cooked meat with nuts and egg, tave, made with meat, feta cheese and yoghurt, or perhaps grilled lamb (qengj), veal (mish viçi) or chicken (zog pule). Albanians also commonly serve offal dishes. In coastal areas, there’s often a choice of freshly landed seafood – sea bream (kocë), sea bass (levrek) and trout (troftë), or perhaps a local speciality like eels (ngjalë). Sallat grek (Greek salad) and vegetables such as peppers, aubergines, potatoes and courgettes are common accompaniments.
Other dishes that are familiar from Greek and Turkish cuisines include the shish qebap (skewered meat, most often lamb), sufflaqa and pita (different terms for a doner kebab), qofta (balls or patties of minced meat and herbs) and dolma (stuffed vine leaves). Albanians also have their own version of the meze, a mix of small plates of meat, cheese and vegetables. Qofta Korçë is a dish from the city of Korça where the meatballs are served in a tomato sauce, reminiscent of an Italian or Spanish staple.
Though desserts are not commonly eaten in Albania, there are a few you may see on a menu. Baklava features layered pastry, nuts and honey and has its roots in Turkey. Shëndetlli is a honey-steeped fruit cake, while tullumba are cylinders of deep-fried dough in syrup. Probably not good for the diet, but nevertheless delicious options at the end of a meal.
Common drinks are of course coffee, kos (a yoghurt drink), or perhaps a beer or local wine. Albanian wine is generally of a very good quality, there are a number of locally brewed beers (birra Korça, birra Tirana, Koan and Norga are some of the best-known brands around the country, with dark versions often available as well as lighter-coloured lagers) and, for those with a strong constitution, the local raki, distilled from grapes or plums, is a popular if heady fortifying tipple.
Qofta are commonly served as a fast food snack, but by far the most popular form of “street food” is the byrek, a triangular filo pastry snack filled with cheese, spinach or meat. These are sold from specialist shops called byrektove.