Bike Stomach: Albanian food

One of the things we focus on while on tour is sampling as much of the local food as possible, and I’m going to start writing blog entries specifically devoted to our food discoveries world-wide.

So here is our experience with Albanian food so far. Overall it’s been excellent and extremely affordable, and it’s a refreshing change from Serbo-Croatian dishes that we’ve been enjoying for the previous two months.


One of the first things that’s immediately noticeable is, like other parts of the Balkans, and like Europe in general, there is a lot of home-grown and organic produce everywhere. Most homes have fruit trees, small gardens, and use fruit-producing vines for shade. When we’ve stayed at guesthouses, we are invariably offered juices, fruits, raki, wine, or other foods grown or prepared by the owner’s family.

There are also fruit and fruit juice stands everywhere on the road. It’s impossible to ride more than a few kilometers without seeing one of these. Some people are also selling freshly roasted corn and other simple snacks. It’s not unusual in the morning to see people walking the streets with bags stuffed with fruit, headed to stake out a corner to set up their road side fruit stands. Here I am buying some amazing figs:

The south is known for its excellent cheese, similar to Greek feta. It is served at every restaurant simply sliced and put on a plate or sometimes grilled or fried. I personally cannot get enough of it; it has a bit of a funky tangy flavor that adds a lot of character, but Steve isn’t a huge fan. The cheese below is from Gjirokastra and is hands down the best cheese I have tried in Albania, very rich and creamy.


After months in countries that prefer bread products for breakfast or that don’t have a breakfast culture at all, it’s really refreshing to be somewhere that has eggs on the menu again. Lots of restaurants have various omelets available, and when we’ve had breakfast included, it always includes scrambled or hard boiled eggs. Also typical for breakfast is a strong herbal tea (I’ve seen it called “mountain tea”), cucumbers, tomatoes, local cheese, simple sliced bread with honey and jams, and fresh fruit like watermelon, grapes, and pears. Sometimes there are also some sliced meats, which may be an influence from nearby Italy.

However, our favorite breakfast was in Shkodër and was the rice pilaf drenched with a gravy made from stewed meat. At 50 Lek ($0.40USD) for a generous portion, it seems to be a popular breakfast for local workers before a long work day, and it is great energy food for a long bike ride as well. (Sorry, didn’t get a photo!)


Like elsewhere in the Balkans, the main dishes seem to be meat-heavy concoctions, accompanied with French fries, salad, soup, olives, and sometimes yogurt. Here is a mixed meat platter we ordered in Tirana with our hotel host; it was far too much food for 3 people but was delicious!

Qofte (often translated as “meat balls” in spite of not being ball-shaped) are popular minced meat fingers with spices that are very tasty. They bear a passing resemblance to ćevapčići, but the flavor is much different; many seem to be made with lamb.

There are also several dishes with ground meat cooked with other ingredients like cheese and peppers and then baked in the oven in a clay dish. Our first experience with this type of dish was trying tavë dheu in Shkodër, where the waiter proudly embraced the poor English translation of “dust pan with meat” and insisted it was the best item on the menu. It was, indeed, delicious, and for 400 Leks ($3.50USD) for two people, quite a bargain.

Another variation at a guest house in Krujë:

On the coast, there are some more seafood options available. We particularly enjoy the squid (calamari), and it’s really good stuffed with cheese and/or prosciutto!

Street foods / fast food

There’s more street food here than we’ve seen recently. Most common are small stands selling grilled corn or qofte, though we’ve also seen cookies and various spit-roasted meats.

There are no fast food chains here (save for one KFC that just opened in Tirana a few months ago), but there are tons of fast food pizzerias (piceri in Albanian), where you can get a pizza as cheap as 200 Lek (although those are very poor quality, better pizzas are around 500-600Lek). There are also tons of pastry shops with various kinds of byrek (burek, a philo-dough pastry filled with ground meat, spinach, cheese, or fruit), plus many delicious cakes, puddings, and sweets. We enjoy the byrek as often as possible!


There are several regional Albanian beers. Korça seems to be the most popular and is average quality for a mass produced beer, but they also make a blonde and dark (Korça Pils e Zezë) version that are not bad.

There are also some regional spirits like this cognac from Butrint. It’s not particularly good, but it’s cheap.

The best spirits are the homemade raki that you will invariably be offered by any locals you meet or stay with. Above is one really potent one I picked up in Krujë from a street side vendor for 500 Lek.

Cafe culture

During the day, the streets are deserted with the extreme heat and no shade. But as soon as the sun sets, everyone comes out of the woodwork to have a drink at a bar/cafe, people watch, and promenade through the streets in their best duds. It’s a really fun time to come out and see all the activity; there are games and rides for the kiddos, beer for the adults, and lots of gossiping for the elders.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the first of my food-specific blog posts. Hope to have more to come, and if you make it to Albania, I hope my tips have helped!

Bike Stomach


What is bike stomach? (credit to my friend Jeff, who as far as I know, coined the term, at least in my circle of friends)

If you’ve ever done any kind of intense physical activity like long distance cycling, running, or swimming, you’re familiar with “bike stomach”. When you are done your workout, you are ravenous, and food takes on especially intense flavors. Cheap cheese curls taste like mana from heaven, and a Pismo Beach cinnamon bun with cream cheese frosting makes you die a little inside in gooey, delicious pleasure. (Photo above taken at Old West Cinnamon Rolls, Pismo Beach, CA)


Add to that the fact that there’s no guilt (you just burned thousands of calories), and bike stomach is one of my favorite things about cycling.

On our future tours, Steve and I are going to start blogging about our food encounters, seeking out the best and most unique food we can find in the communities we ride through. I’ve created a category on this blog callled “Bike Stomach” where our stories and photos will be posted. We’re not on tour now, but we’ll try to do some bike stomach posts in our hometown of San Diego.