The people of Albania are known for their hospitality. As a stranger, you are often viewed with suspicion at first, but once you gain the trust of the residents, you are warmly welcomed and gladly invited to eat and drink. This friendliness towards guests has a very long tradition in the country.
When the National Socialists persecuted and murdered Jews across Europe during World War II, many fled to Albania. Albanian families took in the refugees, making Albania one of the few European countries where the proportion of Jews increased during the Second World War.
It is an important virtue in Albania to help strangers and those in need. Tourists who travel the country also report this hospitality again and again. However, there are a few rules that should be observed. For example, you definitely have to take off your shoes before entering the house and instead put on special slippers that the host has ready.
Nod means no!
You are sure to nod your head eagerly sometimes when you affirm something and want to underline your approval with this gesture. In Albania, that would cause quite a bit of confusion. When an Albanian says no, which means “Jo” in Albanian, he nods his head. When he says yes to something, he tilts his head to the left and answers with “Po”. Those who do not know this could run into a few communication problems in Albania.
Until the 1950s, many people in Albania still wore traditional costumes. At the time, these were primarily made of materials such as leather, wool and silk. There were various headgear, such as the Qeleshe, which is still worn by some, especially older, men in Albania to this day.
The sash that Albanians wear around their hips was also typical. It was used by both men and women. All kinds of odds and ends were kept in it. Men sometimes carried their weapons in it, but the sash was also used to store cigarettes, spoons or food.
Other components of traditional clothing in Albania were an apron for women, a fustanella (a pleated skirt for men) or an opingat, a certain type of sandal.
Sports in Albania
As in many other European countries, Albanians like to play football. Perhaps you have seen the Albanian team play before, because they are members of FIFA and UEFA.
Other popular sports are volleyball and basketball, but also extreme sports such as motor sports.
In Albania, a wedding is a big and important event. Such a wedding celebration extends over several days. Usually there is an engagement party first, followed by a party in the bride’s parents’ house with sweets and gifts. Then there is also a celebration in the groom’s house.
Of course, the celebrations are not limited to the families of the bride and groom, but to all relatives and friends. A special party is organized for this, too, at which the bride not only receives gifts, but also distributes them to the guests. During the various celebrations, wedding attire and bridal gifts are displayed for all participants. Eating and drinking should of course not be missing at any of these festivals and everything from sweets to traditional Albanian dishes is provided.
Eating in Albania
Influences on Albanian cuisine
If you’ve read the section on the history of Albania, you probably won’t be surprised that Albanian cuisine is related to that of Italy, Turkey, and Greece.
Overall, it is called Mediterranean cuisine, so it belongs to Mediterranean cuisine. It also shows many similarities with the cuisine of Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia or Montenegro.
What is typical for Albanian cuisine?
It is customary in Albania to cook with whatever is available in the area or perhaps even on your own field. Many types of vegetables are common, such as tomatoes, eggplants, spinach or peppers. In addition to vegetables, rice and potatoes are important staple foods. There is also bread and other dishes made from cereals such as wheat or rye.
Meat dishes are mainly served on special occasions. Usually there is lamb, goat or beef. Many households also keep their own chickens, which occasionally end up on their plates. The poverty in parts of Albania also created the tradition of processing all parts of an animal. So offal is also used and not thrown away. Fish is eaten where there is a body of water.
Eating tradition in Albania
In Albania, lunch is the most important meal of the day. This meal is usually eaten with the whole family. Sometimes you sit down at a low table on the floor. Before you start eating, you wish each other a good appetite: Për të mirë! You may know that yourself from home. At the end of the meal one then wishes together that God would increase the food: Zoti e shtoftë!
If you are visiting Albania, it can happen that you are invited by nice Albanians. Hospitality has a long tradition in the country and is widespread.
Maybe there would be a soup as a starter, for example Fasul. It’s a bean soup with meat and vegetables. Depending on the region and the cook, it can also taste completely different.
Buttermilk or tea and wine or raki mani (a brandy made from berries) is likely to be served for the adults.
The main course might be served with grape leaves stuffed with rice and meat, called dollma. These are very reminiscent of Greek food. It would not be surprising, however, if byrek, a dumpling with minced meat, sheep cheese or spinach, is served. This is a holdover from the Turkish history of Albania.
As a side dish there might be flatbread or different types of cheese. If you are beginning to notice that you are getting full while eating, you should communicate this in a friendly but firm manner, otherwise your plate will always be refilled.
For dessert, your visit to Albania could include baklava (a puff pastry with syrup and sugar water), muhaleb (a milk pudding) and sugared fruits. Whatever your Albanian host serves – you will likely get full!