A couple weeks ago, I was invited to a student’s home for a traditional Albanian meal. Besart (the student) had told me that his wife (Valire) was a wonderful cook (she was!) and that he wanted to welcome me to his home, where he had lived his entire life (except when his family was forced out during the war). We were joined by their friend, housemate, and fellow actor (Muhamet).
Valire had cooked all day and presented many tasty dishes. The highlight (and my favorite) was her flija (the huge round pie), which resembled a stack of crepes with a bit of soft cheese between layers. This pie is baked one layer at a time–a true labor of love–and, as with all other pastry entrees in the Balkans, is consumed with glasses of yoghurt. We also had a type of corn bread with sausage (proja or pogača, I think), stuffed pickled peppers, fresh tomatoes and cheese, and a pepper cream sauce/relish.
As is the custom, I was seated at the head of the table and intentionally served more than I could possibly eat. I was encouraged to eat with my hands but defaulted to my fork. I happily ate as much as I could but much more slowly and less than everyone else at the table.
After the meal, the men adjourned to the living room to converse while Valire prepared and served tea and dessert for us. Again, more food was offered than could be consumed. I was delighted that Valire joined us for our stimulating conversation…and that the men refrained from smoking (as would be the tradition).
I will write a separate post about tea and coffee but will note the following now: hot black tea (çaj) accompanies meals (usually served afterwards in the home) to aid digestion, while coffee (kafe) is for mid-mornings and/or mid-afternoons (usually enjoyed at local cafes). Sugar (but not milk or lemon) is added according to taste.
The meal was delicious and the company warm and welcoming. Many heartfelt thanks to Besart, Valire, and Muhamet for their gracious hospitality! Faleminderit shumë!
Americans note: If you invite someone to coffee or a meal, then you must pay the tab; conversely, if you have been invited, then you must allow your inviter to pay. This IS the custom. (Best practice is to order modestly.) Also note that waiters are salaried; generally, they do not expect tips but certainly appreciate them; 10% is usually quite enough.