For anyone who has ever met me, you’d know that food is an important part of my life. Especially in the PC, we tend to talk a lot about foods— some kind of coping mechanism or something, who knows? I think for a traveler food is also one of the most interesting and pleasurable cultural experiences; a comparable set of snacks, dishes, and flavors based (mostly) on indigenous ingredients that visibly shift across regions. Sometimes the food can make or break a country’s like-factor; for example, Laos. Beautiful landscapes, people, and traditions, but sheesh! Raw minced meat salads? And buffalo fat stews? Not my cup of tea…
Albania has AMAZING food. OK I’m stretching my opinion a bit. Albania has amazing ingredients. Traditional foods in the south are pretty similar to Greek foods we all know: spanikopita (is called byrek here), pastiçio (cheese and macaroni casserole), dolma (stuffed grape leaves), musaka (layered casserole of potatoes, eggplant, meat), etc. I get pretty sick of Albanian foods though. There are 2 types of restaurants in this country: Pizza/pasta and default Albanian, which rarely strays from an unwritten menu of qofte (lamb meatballs), fries, thick yogurt, and 'Greek' salad.
Some selections from Kujtim's, a restaurant in the Old Town
But I want to talk about my food. Over the last two years, I’ve found a plethora of delicious fruits and veggies to experiment with. Albania also produces lentils, beans, bulgur/ wheat, and an assortment of dairy conditions. I say ‘conditions’ because it starts with milk but can turn into butter, white (feta) or yellow (kaqkavallё) cheeses, ice cream, gjiz (which is something like cottage cheese, but really not the same), dhallё (salty yogurt drink), sour cream, yogurt, etc., all depending on simple variations of temperature and time.
Elbasani couple selling their home made cheeses, Kaqkavallё on the left, Djathe i Barthё on the right
But do you know how amazing yogurt is? Its variations start with fermented kos from cow, sheep, or goat milk, and they do taste very different. Sheep milk is very thick and creamy (much fattier) and usually hard to come by, goat milk is smoother (less fatty) and almost impossible to find, and cow's milk (sold in stores and typically made at home) is kind of sour compared to the others. It can be thickened to make salce kosi, and then (!) can be turned into urli once it sours. Dairy has evidently been a lifeline in this country for centuries and Albanians have mastered ways to consume it!
Near the top of Mt. Gjallice, this gyshja and her family live off of the bi-products from their cow and sheep milk. They kindly invited us for a lunch of yogurt bowls...
I appreciate the way villagers recycle water and soda bottles to sell milk. Just don't forget to boil it!!
So anyway, back to yogurt. One of my proudest achievements in the last two years (please don’t judge me) has been mastering the art of yogurt making. I have created dozens of batches of spoiled milk along the way, sheepishly returning to my landlady and komshi [neighbor friends] to ask politely for another gotё of starter kos. I have also boiled more than my fair share of milk clouds over the stove. They say a watched pot never boils, but I swear as soon as I turn my head the milk inevitably foams up, exploding all over my kitchen! I’ve got it down now though. And it is sooooo worth it. I swear natural yogurt must have some addictive substance in it, because after you try it the taste of store bought yogurt simply isn’t worth the calories.
This is a milk cloud just before it explodes all over my stove
Absolutely the best breakfast post-run: homemade goat yogurt+ homemade granola+ village cherries~~~ Yummm!
I’ve been inspired to share my love-hate relationship with yogurt making because I recently read Julie&Julia while hiding out on Ksamil’s beaches. Such a funny writer! I won’t recommend the movie though, because I’m pretty sure the producers had to censor Julie’s sarcastic foul mouth rants and sexually explicit friends, and really that’s what makes the book. But if you’ve seen it let me know, I could be swayed.