Albania is one of Europe’s most underappreciated culinary destinations. While the Balkan nation has been slowly but surely making a name for itself as an adventure travel destination, it’s also ready to emerge on the world stage as a foodie powerhouse.
Trust us when we say that the wait won’t be long because few other destinations can offer such an eclectic mix of culinary influences in such a small area. Albanian cuisine has been shaped over thousands of years by the Romans, the Ottomans, and all the cooking techniques and ingredients found across the Mediterranean and the Balkans.
Huge zgara (big, mixed meat and vegetable grills) can satisfy even the hungriest travelers, while Ottoman-inspired dishes like dolma (stuffed vine leaves) and byrek (hearty pastry pies) will leave your taste buds overawed. In the mountains, thick bean stews are a wholesome remedy for any malady, while on the coast, fresh seafood straight from the source is guaranteed to delight.
But the next best thing after the taste is the price. Fine dining in Albania is very affordable, and you can enjoy the best restaurants in Tirana, Shkodër, or Sarandë without breaking the bank. Order the local specialties, then sit back with a cold Korca beer or a glass of raki and enjoy.
With all of the different traditional foods of Albania, you might not know which dish to order first. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of our favorite traditional Albanian dishes for you. Try our delicious food and drink recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’ll have an unforgettable time eating your way around this beautiful Balkan nation!
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase or booking through one of our links we may earn a small commission (don’t worry, it’s at no extra cost to you).
16 Traditional Albanian Dishes to Try
1. Dig into a Hearty Albanian Byrek
One of the best traditional foods in Albania is the byrek, a hearty pastry-layered pie that’s filled with delectable fillings. The byrek is a classic of Albanian cooking, and the best and most popular fillings include spinach, cheese, pumpkin, meat, and a combination of all of these favorites.
The byrek is, in fact, a staple of Balkan cuisine, and if you’ve been traveling in the region, you’ll already be well acquainted with this regional specialty. As in neighboring Macedonia and Montenegro, the humble byrek is sold in bakeries across the Albanian nation.
The dish was brought here by the Ottomans, who, of course, spread the byrek across the Balkans as they conquered southern Europe. The Ottomans are long gone, but the byrek has never left.
Each country has its own take on the byrek (it’s variously named the byrek, burek, and börek), and in Albania, the pie is made using layers of flaky filo pastry. Here, it’s typically baked into a large circular shape that can be sliced up into personal-sized pieces. Byrek is the type of street food that’s found everywhere in Albania, and you’ll be able to buy it wherever you’re traveling.
Albanians love their pies, so you may also see lakror for sale in bakeries. This is similar to byrek but prepared using a batter. The city of Korçë, in southeastern Albania, is well regarded for its hearty lakror bakeries.
2. Try Tavë Kosi, the Albanian ‘Yogurt Casserole’
Tavë kosi is considered by many Albanians to be the national dish of Albania (or at least, one of many national dishes!), and it’s a traditional food you can’t leave without trying.
Tavë kosi is a type of baked casserole, and it’s prepared using a base of meat (usually lamb) and yogurt. Yogurt is the primary ingredient, in fact, and the name tavë kosi would translate directly into English as “yogurt casserole.” The finished product is quite distinct because the yogurt is prepared by hand using a large number of beaten eggs, giving the dish a rather quiche-like consistency once it’s been baked in the oven.
Tavë kosi is traditionally prepared using lamb, although chicken is also a common ingredient. The meat is added to rice, alongside herbs like oregano and garlic, before being mixed into a butter and flour roux. The yogurt is then layered on top, allowing it to rise into a beautiful thick crust as the dish cooks.
The city of Elbasan, located a one-hour drive south of Tirana, has a reputation for serving the best tavë kosi in Albania. Indeed, outside of Albania, the dish is popular in Greece and Macedonia, where it’s more commonly referred to as tavë Elbasani, after the city. In Elbasan, try Restaurant Taverna Kala for traditional Albanian food in a rustic setting.
3. Order a Feast of Grilled Zgara
As soon as you start exploring Albania, you’ll notice signs advertising zgara. They’re everywhere, and it won’t be too long until you’re digging into this Albanian dish. Except, it’s not exactly a dish, but more of a feast!
A zgara is essentially a big meat grill. The exact items vary from one restaurant to the next, but you can expect to find everything from qofte and qebaps to grilled lamb, beef, and sausages. The meat is typically accompanied by grilled vegetables and a side of tarator (a cold cucumber and yogurt sauce).
If you’re vegetarian, then a traditional zgara isn’t going to appeal. Instead, you’ll want to order a perime me zgara. This is a big plate of grilled vegetables, often consisting of peppers, eggplants, onions, tomatoes, and anything else that’s in season.
It’s a lot of fun ordering up a huge plate of grilled vegetables, beef, lamb, and chicken covered in seasoning and dripping in juices, but just make sure to arrive at the grill house hungry. While you might try to finish a zgara by yourself, don’t be surprised if you need help from some equally hungry friends. In Tirana, try Zgara Supreme, Tek Zgara, or Zgara Al’Pazar.
4. Enjoy a Cold Beer and a Greasy Qebapa
Albania’s fast food scene has been going strong for centuries. From lunchtime onwards, you’ll smell the grilled aromas of qebapa drifting through the streets, and the grilling won’t stop until the last late-night drinkers have made their way home. If you’re looking to try the best of the best traditional foods of Albania, give this dish a try!
Qebapa is Albania’s answer to the kebab, although these skinless fingers of ground meat could well pass for sausages, too. Qebapa is another Ottoman hangover, and in neighboring countries, you’ll see it for sale as ćevapi or ćevapčići (in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it’s considered the national dish).
In Albania, qebapa consists of ground beef or lamb mixed with onions and seasoned and spiced before being cooked over hot coals. Grilled qebapa is served in portions of five or even 10 in one go, with a side of sauce and a hefty piece of flatbread to accompany it.
Qebapa is one of the most ubiquitous foods in Albania. From the humblest village to the capital city, there are few places where you can’t find a good qebapa for sale. Try Zgara Supreme or Qebaptore Gjakova in Tirana.
5. Fall in Love with Qofte, Albania’s Answer to Meatballs
If you love meatballs, then you’re going to love eating your way around Albania because one of the nation’s favorite dishes is qofte. You’ll smell the meaty aroma of frying qofte all day long in Albania, as local qofteri cook up this simple meat dish for their hungry customers.
Qofte is prepared using minced meat, with lamb and beef being the preferred choices (and sometimes chicken). The minced meat is mixed with seasonings like oregano, salt, pepper, and even a little bit of mint, before being mixed with egg or breadcrumbs to help the qofte hold its meatball-like shape.
Once shaped into circular balls or patted down around a kebab skewer, the qofte are fried in oil until they emerge golden, crispy, and tantalizingly tasty. They’re often served with tomato sauce and alongside salad, beans, or vegetables.
The best qofte is always homemade, but you’ll find a second best in Albania’s specialist qofteri. These local eateries serve up simple qofte with cold beers, and you’ll find them everywhere. In Tirana, you can visit Restaurant Tymi for some of the best qofte in the capital, served at surprisingly low prices.
6. Skip the Meat with a Vegetarian Qifqi
There’s no doubt that Albanian food is traditionally meat-heavy, but vegetarians can still find some delicious gems across the country. One particularly excellent veggie dish is qifqi, which you could call a non-meat version of Albanian qofte.
Qifqi certainly looks like qofte, but the dish is prepared using cooked rice mixed with mint, salt, and pepper. The mixture is then divided up and rolled up into small balls using eggs as a binder before the qifqi is fried in oil. Like qofte, the qifqi is fried until it’s golden and crispy.
This delicious vegetarian dish can be served as a starter, a tasty snack, or as a main course when accompanied by a few sides. Qifqi originates from Gjirokastër, an ancient stone-walled city in southern Albania’s mountains that’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed. Try Taverna Kuka or Taverna Lani for an excellent selection of Gjirokastër specialties, including qifqi.
In Gjirokastër, qifqi is cooked using a specific type of “socket-bottomed” frying pan, which is designed with qifqi-sized molds. The molds make it much easier to shape the qifqi, and it means the rice balls keep that shape when they’re being fried. If you fall in love with qifqi when you’re in Gjirokastër, be sure to buy a qifqi frying pan to bring home with you!
7. If You’re Feeling Down, Cook Up a Hearty Batch of Jani Me Fasule
Every nationality has its idea of the best comfort food, and in Albania, you’ll find there’s nothing more reassuring than a hot bowl of Jani Me Fasule when you’re feeling down. This is one of the best traditional foods in Albania, but what is Jani Me Fasule, we hear you ask?
This Albanian specialty is a big warming bowl of white beans slow-cooked in a wholesome broth. The broth itself varies from one grandmother’s recipe to the next but typically contains basic ingredients like onions, tomatoes, peppers, and seasonings. The main ingredient is always the large, white cannellini beans.
The soup itself has the potential to be an excellent vegetarian and vegan dish when you’re traveling in Albania. Be careful, though, because it could very well be cooked in a meat broth, using leftover shanks or sides of beef or lamb.
The best Jani Me Fasule is homemade and home cooked in an Albanian family kitchen, and it’s the perfect cure for any illness (including one brought on by too many beers or raki the night before!). You’ll also find it on the menu at many Albanian restaurants, including places like Era Restaurant in Tirana, where traditional food is top of the bill.
8. Gorge on Dolma, Vine Leaves Stuffed with Goodness
The delights of dolma are a pleasure you’ll come to love when you’re eating your way around Albania. The concept is simple. You take vine leaves and stuff them full of vegetables, rice, seasoning, and perhaps a little bit of minced meat. The recipes can be changed to suit your tastes, but a typical filling might consist of rice cooked in a broth and then mixed with onions, parsley, basil, salt, pepper, and garlic.
Wrap your filling up inside the vine leaves (there’s an art to this, and it takes many hours of practice to perfect!), cover with olive oil, then leave to simmer in a vegetable broth until soft. The dolma will then be left to cool down and are generally served cold as an appetizer or snack.
Dolma is a regional specialty, and while they’re widespread across the former Ottoman empire, you’ll appreciate the love that Albanians have for this delicacy. Try the dolma at Kripe dhe Piper in Tirana for an authentic dolma experience.
9. Enjoy a Rich Stew of Fergesë Tiranës
To make this famous Albanian food, take chopped peppers and onions, mix them with diced tomatoes, garlic, basil, salt, pepper, and perhaps a little paprika and chili, then leave the ingredients to stew in a rich sauce of Albanian ricotta cheese mixed with flour, butter, and olive oil, and you’ve got yourself the perfect fergesë Tiranës.
As the name of this traditional Albanian dish suggests, it’s said to have originated in Tirana, the capital. You’ll find it’s hugely popular all over the country, but of course, there’s nowhere better to dip into fergesë Tiranës than in Tirana itself. We recommend finding yourself a traditional Albanian restaurant when you’re in the capital, including Era Restaurant or Oda Restaurant, which both specialize in local dishes.
While fergesë Tiranës is a vegetarian dish, there are huge variations across the country. The most popular variation sees the addition of liver, which, of course, makes the dish totally unsuitable for vegetarians. The liver version is called fergesë me melci, which is also very popular in Tirana.
10. Try Tarator, a Cucumber and Yogurt Soup Best Served Cold
Albanians like to get things started with a little appetizer, and there’s no more famous appetizer than tarator. This simple dish is prepared using yogurt and cucumber, and it can be served as a soup or used as a dipping sauce.
First, cucumbers are peeled and grated. Then the cucumbers are mixed into the yogurt, which is seasoned with garlic, dill, salt, and pepper to taste. No heat is required, and once the ingredients are mixed, the tarator is simply left to set in the fridge.
Once it’s set, tarator is best served cold. You can order it as a starter in almost any restaurant, but you’ll also find it served alongside Albanian main courses. It makes a particularly excellent dipping sauce for dishes like qofte and dolma, while no grilled meat or vegetable platter is ever served without tarator on the side.
11. Fall for Speca te Mbushur, Juicy Stuffed Peppers
Peppers are a beloved Albanian vegetable, and they’re incorporated into a huge number of different dishes. Whether they’re red or green, there’s nothing better than a beautifully grilled pepper to dip into your tarator sauce.
Except, there is one thing better than a grilled pepper, and that’s a stuffed pepper. Known as speca te mbushur (“speca” is Albanian for pepper), this dish is literally stuffed full of herbs, spices, and delectable fillings that are guaranteed to make your mouth water.
The stuffing can vary widely, but as this is Albania, you can expect the most common fillings to be meat-based. Minced beef and rice mixed with onions and garlic are incredibly popular, and you’ll love how the juice pools in the bottom of the pepper once it’s baked in the oven.
You may also fall for peppers stuffed with cheese, peppers stuffed with minced lamb and onions, or peppers stuffed with other vegetables (like eggplant or potato). Oda Restaurant in Tirana has a particularly excellent selection of stuffed peppers for you to try.
12. Don’t Shy on the Sarma, Albania’s Delicious Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
Sarma! Delicious, delectable, and delightful sarma! Adjectives can’t do this famous Albanian food justice, so you’ll just have to take our advice and order a plate at the first opportunity.
But what is sarma, exactly? Other than being outrageously delicious, sarma is a type of stuffed cabbage roll that’s filled with meat, rice, and vegetables. Different chefs have their individual recipes, but a typical sarma might consist of cabbage leaves wrapped around ground mince that’s been seasoned with garlic, pepper, and paprika, then mixed with onions and long-grain rice.
You might find the cabbage leaves are substituted for vine leaves or sauerkraut, while the rice is often changed in favor of bulgur wheat. Meatless sarma is an excellent vegetarian option, and they’re often cooked with chopped eggplants, onions, tomatoes, peppers, and other seasonal vegetables.
Sarma is another dish that has a long history in Albania, and you might already be familiar with the concept of stuffed cabbage rolls if you’ve traveled through Turkey. That’s because sarma was also brought here by the Ottomans, who left a rich culinary legacy across the country. Era Restaurant and Kripe dhe Piper in Tirana serve wonderful sarma.
13. Enjoy Fresh Seafood from the Adriatic and Ionian Seas
Albania is gifted with a long coastline overlooking the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. There’s no surprise, then, that Albanian seafood is some of the best in the Mediterranean, and well on par with nearby Greece, Italy, and Croatia.
When it comes to traditional foods in Albania, fish is always on the menu, and it’s best served grilled (similar to the zgara) with a side of grilled vegetables or rice. Albanian restaurants also serve surprisingly excellent Italian-inspired food (for a fraction of the prices elsewhere), and there’s a long tradition of seafood pasta and pizza.
Albanian seafood is best enjoyed straight from the source, so head to coastal destinations like Sarandë, where the fish of the day is on every menu. Sarandë is particularly renowned for its mussels, and you can even visit The Mussel House, a local mussel farm where you can try them fresh.
14. Tackle a Wheel of Kaçkavall Cheese
Albanians are rather fond of a local cheese named kaçkavall, which is prepared using cow or sheep’s milk in an age-old process that continues today.
Kaçkavall is yellow in color and is classified as a semi-hard cheese. It’s thought to have been prepared in the region long before the current national boundaries we have today were drawn, and you’ll consequently find variations of kaçkavall in all the neighboring countries.
In Albania, you can purchase kaçkavall by the wheel if you like. Just head to the cheese counter at your local supermarket. In restaurants and bars, kaçkavall is typically served as a light appetizer or bar snack before the main course, and it can be grilled or simply served raw. If you’re a cheese lover, this is one of the must-try foods in Albania.
15. Have a Slice of Trilece with Your Morning Coffee
Cake eaters rejoice because Albanians have the perfect sweet dish to satisfy your cravings. Head to a local cafe or bakery, where you can order a large slice of trilece to quench your cake desires.
Trilece is one of the most delicious traditional Albanian desserts that’s prepared using three types of milk; hence the name “tri” (three) “leche” (milk). Trilece uses three different types of milk to achieve its unique taste and texture, with the primary ingredients being milk, double cream, and condensed milk.
It’s a local take on the famous South American cake tres leches, which is very similar in composition and taste. It’s unclear how exactly the cake arrived in Albania, but it’s thought to have come from South America, via Turkey, to Albanian bakeries!
Tirana has an excellent cafe culture, and you can enjoy a slice of trilece alongside freshly brewed coffee as you plan your day’s sightseeing in the capital. Some of the best cafes in Tirana include The Tea Room, Mulliri Vjeter, and Mon Cheri.
16. Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth with a Big Batch of Baklava
Baklava is one of the most traditional Albanian desserts you’ll find for sale during your trip. Like many local favorites, baklava was brought here during the Ottoman era. The Ottomans had a serious sweet tooth, and they spread their love for baklava across the Balkans.
In Albania, the sweet pastry is prepared as it is in many other parts of the region, with a light filo pastry that’s layered with walnuts, hazelnuts, and pistachios. The pastry is dripped in honey, sugar, or syrup before large batches are baked in big ovens.
Baklava is traditionally prepared using honey sourced straight from the hive, and you’ll see this for sale as baklava me mjalte. You’ll find it sold across the country, and all you’ll need to do is pop into a baklava shop or bakery where you can buy it by weight!
There you have it! The 16 best traditional foods in Albania. What’s your favorite traditional food in Albania?
Planning a trip to Albania? Check our out favorite books and travel guides!