Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Culinary Satisfaction

My food related post from earlier this week bemoaned my inability to find certain foods here in Albania.  I've received comments about the post being sad and in a way, it is.  What that post failed to mention is the amazing foods that are readily available here.  So today's post will sing the praises of food here in Albania.

Yes, there are many items that one can't find on the shelves of Albania's hypermarkets.  Typical American brands and pre-packaged items are non-existent.  (Not that I have ever bought a lot of these items anyway).  When they do exist, they are almost prohibitively expensive.  For example, the local Carrfour has a small speciality foods section that sells Old El Paso taco kits for five times what you would pay in the United States.  I would imagine that one needs to weigh their desire for these "tastes of home" with their willingness to shell out a lot of Leke. 

What can you find here?  During the summer season, fresh tomatoes are plentiful, taste the way a tomato should, and are cheap. I mean crazy cheap.  The same tomato that would cost you several dollars at a Whole Foods Market costs mere pennies at one of Albania's many roadside markets. The same goes for most fresh produce.  Last summer I commented on the plentiful supply of fresh figs.  At one point I had so many figs that I couldn't cook or eat them fast enough.  Fig season is long gone but this past winter I was introduced to mandarin season.  We have a mandarin tree in our yard which, given its size, produced an impressive quantity of the small orange fruit.  Guests at our December events were treated to chocolate dipped mandarins, mandarin cake, fruit salads, and bowls of mandarins doubling as table centerpieces and dessert.  As with all of the freshest produce, while it is in season it is abundant but once it is gone, it is gone. However, there always seems to be a new fruit or vegetable that takes its place on the shelves.

On a year around basis, jars of roasted red peppers and jams that would be considered to be speciality items in the U.S. are plentiful.  What would be considered gourmet juices in the U.S.- peach nectar, sour cherry and blood orange juices and yes, even banana juice, are plentiful and sell for a little more than a bottle of water.  We have so many Nutella-like spreads to chose from that I find myself buying a different brand each time.  The same items that I might be able to find at Trader Joe's for several dollars sell for less than a dollar here.  This past week I sought out lemon curd for a baking recipe only to find that I had not one but three different brands to chose from.  This in the same store where peanut butter is non-existent.  Go figure!

Fresh mozzarella and lamb have become dietary staples for us.  Due to their high costs, these items were occasional treats for us back home.  I remember planning a small dinner party when we were still living in Norfolk.  Since we would be a party of six I decided to splurge and grill lamb chops. Somehow the guest list exploded to twelve. After that dinner we ate pasta for a week.  Here we can buy a whole lamb for less than the cost of those lamb chops.

So yes, I have complained about the lack of variety in the food here but the food we do have is good. Really good.  It is fresh, flavorful, and embarrassingly inexpensive.  I've gotten accustomed to eating fresh mozzarella and tomato salads with my lamb dinners and Sidney will only drink blood red orange juice and peach nectar.  Part of me tells me I should enjoy this while I can.  The other part of me is thinking about how I will have cravings for these foods when we are back in the U.S.

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