Authentic Albanian food is a gem to discover in the Balkans. While the country is packed with legendary history, larger-than-life heroes, and thriving cities, the food draws many visitors from around the world to this small Mediterranean country.
Not only can you savor some of the oldest Albanian dishes that have survived centuries, but you can enjoy Albanian versions of famous Italian and Spanish meals too. You can easily plan a foodie trip to Albania and eat your way around the country. To get you started, here are the top 12 authentic Albanian foods you must try, along with some bonus side dishes and desserts!
1. Qofte: Albanian Grilled Meatballs
Considered by many to be the national dish of Albania, we’re kicking off our top 12 list with qofte, also known as the Albanian meatball (but it’s so much better!).
Qofte can be a main dish or an appetizer. This dish has Turkish origins due to the country being occupied by the Ottoman Empire for centuries. But Albanians created their own delicious twist on this ancient favorite.
The mixture for qofte is often ground beef but don’t be surprised to also find some with chicken meat. Other ingredients also garlic, onions, breadcrumbs, and some recipes include mint leaves. Add some salt, pepper, and oregano for taste!
The meat is then formed into either patties or short looking tubes and fried to perfection. Qofte is traditionally served with warm, crispy fries, savory yogurt dip, and cool mug of Albanian beer.
2. Tave Kosi: Lamb Yogurt Quiche
The next must-have authentic Albanian dish is also a result of the country’s close historical relationship with the Ottoman Empire. Tave kosi is a lamb yogurt quiche and the best place to have this Albanian dish is in the ‘tave kosi’ origin city of Elbasan.
You can grab mouthwatering tave kosi in Tirana, but if you want the authentic deal Elbasan is only a 40-minute drive south, nestled along the Shkumbin River.
Legend has it when Albanian leader, Skanderbeg, was holding back against another Ottoman attack in 1452, the chefs were marinating lamb in yogurt in preparation of serving it to the Ottoman leader. But, just like many times before, Skanderbeg and his forces held back the Ottomans.
As a result, instead of throwing away the yogurt, the chefs created a yogurt quiche dish with lamb. It has been a famous Albanian dish ever since, even being part of the historical moment in the country’s independence in 1912.
3. Byrek / Lakror: Flaky and Buttery Spinach Pies
Another popular, flaky and buttery authentic street dish in Albania is byrek. You’ll find variations of byrek throughout the Mediterranean, Northern Africa, and Turkey, but Albanian byrek is a crispy, mouth-watering reminder of how Albanians take a recipe and truly make it their own.
Byrek is a baked made with layers and layers of thin and crispy filo dough. The most popular and traditional filling is a mixture of spinach, cheese, and eggs, but you can also find byrek with beef, lamb, or chicken. Byrek is traditionally cut and served in triangles, and you can eat it literally as any meal or snack throughout the day.
Byrek also varies by region in Albania. In Korce, byrek is known as lakror and is a thinner, flatter version of byrek. It can also have the same fillings as byrek, but usually sliced and served similar to pizza.
4. Speca me Gjize: Stuffed Peppers
Our next authentic Albanian dish is one of the most colorful dishes on the menu. Speca me gjize is stuffed red, yellow, orange, and green peppers with ricotta cheese, and an array of aromatic spices. Every pepper is stuffed to the brim and then baked until it’s melt-in-your-mouth ready. It’s not only healthy, but it’s a remarkable pick for lunch or dinner.
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5. Speca te Mbushura: Stuffed Peppers with Meat
Stuffed peppers is a very popular Albanian dish and you will find different variations. Speca te mbushura is another stuffed pepper dish packed with flavorful ground beef, perfectly seasoned onions, soft rice, and just a dash of tomato puree. Topped with basil, rosemary, salt, and pepper and baked until the peppers fall apart on your plate, it’s the perfect meal that can be eaten either hot or cold.
6. Tave Dheu: Soup with Beef Liver
While many of us may not think much of liver and try to avoid it at all costs, you will not want to avoid liver in Albania. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever tried before, especially when it’s served in tave dheu.
Tave dheu is a soup of beef liver, garlic, bell peppers, feta cheese and ricotta cheese. Chili flakes and bay leaves are used for a boost of flavor and then placed in clay pots to bake until melty, warm-your-soul goodness. You’ll definitely not regret having this Albanian dish!
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7. Pastice: Baked Macaroni
Italy also left behind its influence on Albania when it occupied the country from 1939-1943, and that includes food. The Albanian dish pastice derives from the Italian word pasticcio, which means “make a mess.”
Pastice is a baked delight of macaroni, usually spaghetti, with feta cheese, butter, milk and eggs. You first cook the pasta and then combine all the ingredients together in a baking dish. It’s the perfect comfort food!
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8. Fergese: Baked Vegetables and Cheese
Our next authentic Albanian dish originates from the capital city of Tirana and can be served as a side dish or the main course. It’s a delightful baked mixture of bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, feta cheese, basil, butter, flour, and olive oil.
After sautéing the vegetables, all the ingredients are mixed and baked in small clay pots. They’re pulled from the oven and then served with buttery and crispy pieces of bread for dipping. You can also find other variations of this dish with liver, known as fergese me melci.
9. Zgara: Grilled Meat
If you’re at a restaurant and flipping through the menu, you will most likely see a section called zgara. This section will be all kinds of grilled meat. This could be beef, lamb, and chicken. You can order a big plate of grilled meat with a few beers and be in zgara heaven! You can also find zgara menus that also include grilled vegetables and cheese. Many restaurants serve zgara, but you can also find places where zgara is their specialty.
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10. Peshke: Fish
Located in the Mediterranean, Albania is naturally a must-visit when you love a piece of fresh, perfectly grilled fish. Nearly all the restaurants in the country serve fish, most serving fresh fish caught the very same day.
Depending on the region of the country you’re visiting, you’ll see some different dishes. For example, in the north, most likely your fish will be similar to Pollock that was caught out of Lake Shkoder. It’s hard to go wrong when you pick fish in Albania for your next meal!
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11. Petulla: Albanian Fried Dough
A childhood favorite of many Albanians, this dish of fried dough can be served with powdered sugar, or you can add any number of favorite toppings like feta cheese and raspberry jam, freshly picked raspberries, or honey. If you’re looking for something both sweet and savory, you can even eat petulla like they do in the south with yogurt and garlic!
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12. Kotolete: Thinly Sliced and Breaded Meat
Another dish that gives a nod to Italy is kotolete. This dish is a thinly sliced cut of meat that is breaded and fried to crispy precision. The most popular meats used include chicken and veal.
Common Side Dishes and Desserts with Albanian Meals
All of these dishes are amazing on their own, but to truly savor your stay in Albania don’t forget to also try the most popular side dishes and desserts for a complete and unforgettable meal.
1. Grilled Vegetables
You’ve probably noticed that grilled vegetables are a theme throughout many of the traditional Albanian dishes. It’s also completely normal to order a side dish of grilled vegetables as a side dish or appetizer, which is usually a plate of onions, zucchini, yellow squash and sometimes eggplant.
A salad in Albania is not the typical salad we have in the States. When you order a salad, you’ll get a plate or bowl of mixed tomatoes and cucumbers, sprinkled with feta cheese, onions, and olives. If you’re ordering at a restaurant it’s best to check what type of salads they have on the menu. A salad could mean a few different things.
A favorite side dish that is just perfect with practically any meal is tzatziki. This is a yogurt sauce with pieces of cucumber and dill that is often ordered alongside grilled meat and vegetables. It’s also a perfect pairing with qofte!
4. Fried Kackavall
Ordered as an appetizer, this is a starter that is heaven for cheese lovers. Kackavall is a semi-hard, traditional Albanian cow or sheep cheese that locals often call “yellow cheese”. It is the second most popular kind of cheese after feta cheese (also called white cheese). Kackavall is fried to salty goodness and served with bread. The pronunciation is Ca-ch-ca-val.
The most popular dessert in Albania is baklava. Baklava can be found throughout the Balkans and Middle East, but the Albanian version is revered to be some of the best in the region. Layers and layers of filo pastry is laid out and layered with walnuts topped with sticky, gooey sugar. Sweet tooth heaven! Baklava is a must-have for New Years, but can be enjoyed anytime throughout the year.
A surprising favorite is an Albanian twist on a popular Spanish dessert. Trilece, or Tres Leche in Spanish, is a sponge cake that is made with cow, goat, and water buffalo milk. The cake soaks up and oozes all the sweet milk, with additional sweetness from the smooth caramel glaze on top.
Begin Your Unforgettable Food Adventure in Albania
By following our list, you will be in food heaven during your stay. But believe it or not, there are so many other fabulous dishes to discover in Albania! So, if you love savoring new foods and find inspiration in trying new flavors, you can eat your way around Albania while maintaining an extremely modest budget.
If you’re ready to begin your foodie tour, learn more about how to start booking your trip to Albania here.