From Borek to Byrek: the tastiest Albanian dishes

The Balkans is one of Europe’s best regional buffets: From baklava in Bulgaria to saksuka in Türkiye, you can plan an entire vacation just eating your way through each country’s history, culture, and communities. 

Albanian food is an exceptionally underrated cuisine and one that travelers are always wowed by. Traditional Albanian dishes reflect centuries upon centuries of home cooked favorites while more contemporary Albanian food fuses tastes of home with international flair. 

Whether you’re touring Tirana or trying a new restaurant at home, these are 10 tasty Albanian foods that should be on your table.  

1. Byrek

Cubed butter sitting on pile of flour

Savvy travelers know to make a beeline for Byrek on their first day in Albania. The Ottoman Empire helped spread this food through the region and Albanians have a mighty appetite for it. Byrek translates to pie in Albanian; you should need no other detail to order one up. This flaky layered pastry is stuffed with all kinds of goodness: meat, veggies, potatoes, cheese, you name it. Best of all, it’s one traditional Albanian dish you can pick up from a street cart.

2. Tavë kosi

Close up of casserole in pan

Albania’s national dish is exactly what you’ll want for dinner. Tavë kosi is not the most elaborate of Albanian dishes. In fact, it’s more like an upscale of leftovers than a scratch recipe. The two staples of the dish are lamb and yogurt, two ingredients that were precooked for the initial meal then reused to create tavë kosi. The lamb is either boiled, sauteed, or grilled before being smothered in yogurt and baked alongside rice. It’s essentially a casserole and is a comfort dish that will have you longing for evenings in Tirana. 

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3. Speca me gjize

Birdseye view of orange, red and green peppers

Hopefully you’ve kept the oven hot: tavë kosi is far from the only traditional Albanian food that’s baked to perfection. Speca me gjize is a picture on a plate, a vibrant presentation of ingredients grown across the Albanian countryside. Green, yellow, orange, and red peppers are halved and filled with a heavy hand of rice, spices, and cottage cheese. The packed peppers are popped in the oven and baked. Healthy and hearty, it’s a simple yet savory meal that is ideal for the vegetarian vagabond. 

4. Pastice

Macaroni in bowl

You might not know pastice by name, but the moment you set your eyes on this dish, you’ll know exactly what it is. That’s because pastice is closer to an Italian national dish than an Albania national dish. Pastice is a recipe leftover from Italy’s occupation of Albania during World War II. Pasta (usually macaroni noodles), eggs, milk, and butter are baked and served as if you were eating Sunday dinner at nonna’s house. It may not technically be Albanian food but you’ll get no side-eye from Albanians when you order this dish in-country.

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5. Qofte

Meatballs on table with tomatoes

Phonetically, qofte already gives you a hint of what Balkan, Middle Eastern, and North African food it emulates. If you’ve ever had kofta, then you can already get a taste of what to expect from Albanian style meatballs. Many consider it in the same class of Albanian national dishes like tavë kosi, others simply appreciate it for its undeniable deliciousness. 

Ground meat, a little garlic, chopped onions, and breadcrumbs are shortlisted for the recipe, though some use mint or parsley leaves. Roll ‘em, pat ‘em, and fry them in a pan: you’ve got the perfect crowd-pleasing appetizer, side dish, or main course in Albania.

6. Ballokume

Biscuit dough on table with rolling pin

Whether you’re insatiably snacky or you’ve only got a tiny bit of room in your stomach for a treat, the ballokume must find its way onto your tongue. Call it a biscuit or call it a cookie, this traditional Albanian food originating from the city of Elbasan is a cornflour creation with a cult following. Ballokume was a dessert typically reserved for “Summer Day” celebrations, an ancient March holiday, but let’s be honest: there’s no way contemporary Albanians were limiting their indulgence to a single year. You shouldn’t have trouble finding ballokume during your travels.

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7. Fërgesë Tirane

Skanderbed Square in Tirana, Albania

Another Albania national dish that you need to put on your must-munch menu, Fërgesë Tirane once again proves that the simplest ingredients prepared with a little bit of love can come to represent a country. Fërgesë Tirane gets its namesake from the capital city of Tirana. It’s a baked dish of cheese and sauteed vegetables. Put a basket of bread in the center of the table and watch it disappear. You might see it listed on a menu as Fërgesë me melci; which is the same dish but with liver added. 

8. Flia

Crepe cooking in pan

Fila. Fli. Flija. One letter may make a big difference when writing some words in a non-native tongue, but when it comes to this Albanian dish, either spelling of the word yields the same food: a crepe-like pastry. Similar to byrek and quite popular in neighboring Kosovo, it’s a pastry that’s layered with fillings like yogurt. You’ll spot flia in an instant thanks to its triangular shape and you shouldn’t be surprised to find it served accompanied by sour milk, honey, jam, or even vegetable spread. 

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9. Kashkaval

Birdseye view of a wedge of yellow cheese on a table with cherry tomatoes and lettuce

Here’s one Albanian food that isn’t a hard sell for even the pickiest of eaters. Kashkaval is straightforward yellow cheese. Unlike an Emmental, this traditional Albanian food can be made with milk from either or both a cow and a sheep. Cheese aficionados will describe it as creamy, tangy, sweet, and salty. No matter which taste buds are telling the truth, the fact of the matter is that it’s kind enough on the palate to be served as a table cheese to munch on over conversation with your fellow travelers.

10. Petulla

close up of red jam on spoon with blue backdrop

Mom and dad, write this one down for the kids: putting a plate of petulla in their hands will make them say “Albania is awesome”. Petulla is fried dough, the same crispy confection that we all grew up loving. You’ll obviously find it topped with powdered sugar, but if you want to eat this Albanian food Balkans-style, pour on the jam, yogurt, or feta cheese and enjoy.

Get ready for a mouthwatering tour on Trafalgar’s 14-day Balkan Adventure. You’ll begin in Bucharest and travel all the way to Belgrade, eating your way through 7 countries, including Albania. Spend the night in Tirana and dine on as many Albanian treats as you can get your hands on.

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