Sunday, April 29, 2012

Slow Food Albania

Welcome to Slow Food Albania

I love good food.  You might call me a foodie or a food snob but that doesn't bother me.  Salty, sweet, or savory; from the most complex flavor profile to the simplest, if the food is made with good quality products I enjoy it. I can be as equally satisfied with a creative salad as I am with a platter of meat.  I prefer local and organic products but do eat carefully selected imported items.  I would rather taste a single bite of a quality food item than have heaping plates of food of an inferior quality.  In my opinion, when it comes to food, more isn't always better.

Mezes of tapanade, cream, and pesto
A couple of years ago I became aware of, and interested in the Slow Food movement.  Slow foods is a grassroots effort that aims to grow and produce food locally while taking into consideration the larger environment.  It considers the entire "cost" of the end product.  Are the farmers and food producers treated fairly?  How much of an environmental impact does the production of the food have?  Does the food enjoyable to eat and taste good?  Slow food's  mission statement resonates with me: the organization seeks to  "envision a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that is good for them, good for those who grow it and good for the planet".  How can one argue with that?

Last fall I was fortunate enough to spend a weekend in Turino, Italy with a group of European alumnae from my Alma Mater discussing these very issues.  That weekend was thought provoking and filled with culinary delights.  I blogged about the experience here.  The weekend further spurred my gastronomic interest and I returned home thinking even more about eating locally and the opportunities that existed in Albania.

Slow Foods International and Slow Europe have helped to take the movement global.  What started small has grown into an epic scale project with members in 150 countries.  Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered that Albania had its very own slow food chapter.  This past weekend I had the opportunity to discover just what Slow Food Albania is all about.

Garlic shoots, cheese, and bean byrek

Mrizi i Zanave did not disappoint.   Because we went as part of a group, we were served a set menu.  In true Albanian fashion, once the food started arriving it didn't stop.  We started with a trio of spreads- pesto, olive tapanade, and cream that were slathered on top of homemade toasts.  Next came platters of lightly grilled spring vegetables and creative spins on traditional Albanian dishes.  I had never tried fresh garlic shoots before and I found them to be  surprisingly tasty.  I'm not a fan of traditional byrek which usually arrives heavy and drenched in oils.  Both the bean and the nettle filled byrek were delicious.  So much so, that Glenn, who doesn't eat beans, cleaned his plate.

A duo of pastas
Next came the pasta course- a duo of individually plated homemade pastas.  The noodles with spring vegetables in a light sauce were tasty but I preferred the ravioli stuffed with foraged greens.  The servers explained each dish to us as it was presented and went through the ingredient list.  Even the Albanians at the table weren't able to translate some of the filling ingredients into English. Foraged greens?  I'm not sure what that means but I had visions of dandelions growing on the side of the road.  It didn't matter since they just tasted so good.  (I do not think I will be going out to forage for my own greens however).

Chicken in a pot
The entree consisted of two meats, a traditional lamb that was grilled to a tender perfection that I had yet to experience in Albania and a roast chicken which was served in a copper pot on top of a polenta like grain.  Again we couldn't get a clear Albanian-English translation but it was good just the same.  The final course consisted of four mini desserts served in individual dishes.  A blueberry cordial accompanied a fruit sorbet, a minted fruit salad, and a dish of stewed fruits that roughly translated means "cranberry".  Even after all of the earlier dishes the desserts were delicious.  Of course everything was washed down with house made red wine.

We were told that the menu changes seasonally with whatever is fresh and in season being brought to the table.  Spring is the season of fresh fruits and vegetables but I'm sure that the meals produced during the other seasons are just as flavorful.  The restaurant is a bit of a drive from Tirana but I know we'll be going back to sample the in-season foods from the rest of the year.


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