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Balkan Odyssey Part 5: Eating in Tirana
One of the most frustrating things in Tirana is simply finding a good place to eat. The problem isn't one of quality, however, but of quantity. Tirana must have the fewest restaurants per capita of any city in Europe.
At first glance, this doesn't seem to be the case. The Bllok area is crammed with people sitting at cafes and watching the world go by. But when I looked closer, I noticed none of them were eating.
I spent hours wandering the Blloku, and greater Tirana in search of restaurants and found less than half-a-dozen of them. I even had two guidebooks to help me out but nearly every suggestion was closed when I eventually found it. The reality is that Albanians don't go out to eat very often and the city doesn't have enough tourists to maintain the few restaurants that try to survive in this climate. As a result, I found myself at the same three restaurants over and over again.
Bacchus (Vaso Pasha). Italian food is king in Albania and this is one of the better places to enjoy it. Pizzas are decent, the capresse is excellent and full meals come to less than $10.
Era (Ismail Qemali) . Also Italian based, but they do have a small section of Albanian food in the (English) menu. The chicken dishes were very tough, but the stuffed eggplant more than made up for it. Also, very affordable with dishes $5-6 dollars.
Serenata (Mihal Duri 7). At last! True Albanian food and man was it good! The baked feta brought tears to my eyes, the fresh bread was delicious, and the entrées outstanding. The main waiter speaks a little bit of English, which is good since the menu is only in Albanian. I always took his suggestions for the best items and was never disappointed-even when I ended up with some type of innards. I normally hate any type of innards but these, whatever they were, were prepared with enough spice and marinade to actually make it rather tasty. In addition to the great food, the interior is designed as an old ottoman house. The only problem was the lack of diners. There was never more than two other tables filled when I ate. I have a sad feeling that Serenata will soon disappear like so many other "great" restaurants recommended in my guidebooks.
Over the course of my travels in Albania, I came to rely in two main staples: bread and cheese. This sounds rather Spartan, but both were consistently the best thing I had no matter where I ate. The cheese is fantastic. The feta is creamier than the Greek version and remarkably rich. The bread, baked fresh every day, is airy and tasty--far better than anything I can find back home in Los Angeles. Everything else I ate in Albania had various degree of quality. Most of the meat was stringy and had I not brought dental floss, I would have been very uncomfortable. I wish there were more places like Serenata throughout the country, but this simply wasn't the case. All too often I found myself digging into pizza. I didn't travel all the way to Albania to eat Italian food, but often times I had no other choice.