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In recent years, Albania has been emerging on the international food scene, also thanks to a cuisine that successfully synthesizes the lightness of Mediterranean flavours with typical Balkan aromas and strong Ottoman influences.
Like all burgeoning cities, Tirana offers some unique foodie experiences that you are unlikely to come across in other more renowned capitals. It is all thanks to the young chefs and families who are intent on preserving a culinary tradition that looked like being lost forever.
So, where to dine out in Tirana? With a selection of typical meals, low cost fine dining and some great cocktail bars, here are our tips for an incredibly satisfying weekend in the Albanian capital.
Oda – The good old Albanian tradition
To start to get a feel for Albanian food, the best idea is to start from one of the most traditional venues in the city: Oda is a typical eating house in the centre of Tirana. It lies at the end of an alley with an entrance resembling the courtyard of a private house. Here you can try some of the typical dishes of the Albanian food culture: burek, pickled vegetables, Tasqebap, bite-sized morsels of veal, lamb and the meat of the day warmed up in the oven. It's a tiny venue with a number of little rooms. The cost of a meal? Staggeringly cheap if you think that this is the centre of town: around 10/15 Euro per person with a few dishes and drinks included.
Luigj Gurakuqi, Tirana
Millxhiu – Low cost fine dining
Bledar Kola is a young chef, born in 1984, who has trained in various European restaurants, comprising the Noma. Here, the cuisine carries the chef's own personal mark, with an almost obsessive passion for vegetables, fermented ingredients and traditional Albanian dishes revived and revisited. The street-facing window displays three grinders processing different types of cereals and a casual chic interior - interpreted in natural materials, wood and soft lighting - will lead you into the sort of atmosphere you would never imagine encountering in Tirana. Don't miss the local cheese tasting experience, the salads and the Albanian gnocchi. The price of the gourmet menu starts at around 20 Euro.
Hyrjia e Liqenitartificial, Titana
Bujtina e Gjelit– Open fire cooking and vegetables
This is a little hotel not far from the centre of Tirana, more importantly, a restaurant in which to discover the Albanian culinary tradition. Here, it really comes home to you to what extent cooking techniques and ingredients impact your perception of a cuisine. The main courses are laid out on enormous cast iron plates set close to the fire where, if you are lucky, you will see pork or goat roasting. The hot rolls wrapped in vine leaves verging on crispness are perfectly sublime: a completely novel experience even if they are very similar to the middle eastern recipe.
Bujtina e Gjelit
Rr.Don Bosco 100, Tirana
Panorama Dajt – A trip to the Albanian mountains
Tirana is located in a very strategic position: less than 30 minutes from the sea and the mountains. If nearby Durazzo – on the coast – lacks appeal for a day's outing, then hop on the funicular railway (the Dajiti Ekspress Cab) and go as far as Mount Dajiti, where a number of restaurants await. If a fantastic view is what you are after, nothing beats the Panorama Daji, an old-style restaurant with a panoramic window overlooking the valley. Unfortunately, the menu is a hotchpotch of Italian, Greek and Albanian dishes (a common occurrence in Albania) but if you order the traditional fare, you will not go wrong. The meatballs in sauce with fresh and pickled vegetables from the buffet are a must.
Perxhola - Dajti, RrugaQemalStafa, Tirana
Radio and Nouvelle Vague – Drinking well in Tirana
Tirana is a lively city, but if you really want to be part of the fun, follow the nightlife trail and you will discover cocktail bars on a par with those of any other great European city. The first of such venues is Radio, with vintage radios on display in every nook and cranny of its interior. Here they serve excellent gin tonics and the clientele is young and fashionable. Some may use the term hipster... but let's not go down that road.
Rruga Ismail Qemali P. 29 Ap. 1, Tirana
Without leaving Blloku, the district formerly inhabited by generals of the regime and now entirely redeveloped, another good place at which to stop off for drinks is the Nouvelle Vague, where the bar is tended by a very young and enthusiastic staff who have put together an impressive list of drinks with an international vocation. The more experimental creations may still require a few adjustments to meet the mark, but an overwhelming desire to please transpires throughout. In the evening, when the venue starts to throb, this is the ideal place in which to surrender to new twists on Old Fashioned mixes and notes of sourness.
Pjeter Bogdani, Tirana