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Kosovo


Kanishka
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Greetings from sunny Pristina, Kosovo! Marisa and I have been living here almost two weeks.  This is a fascinating place both in terms of food and in terms of everything else (politics, lifestyle, getting the day-to-day done, and so on).  I wish I could write about it all, and I'll probably try in a different venue.  But I promised some writing about the food here, and I want to keep that commitment.  In our last two weeks, we've found Kosovo (or at least Pristina and its surroundings) to be  an interesting and often delicious place to eat.

Pristina actually has a bit of a reputation as a restaurant city, possibly due to the fact that over a decade of international attention has meant that "internationals" (diplomats, NGO types, mercenaries, etc...) have ended up here.  Perhaps not to the quantity that Sarajevo has seen, but certainly significant.  Based on our near fortnight here I can say that rep is deserved.  We're eating out fairly regularly, almost purely "local" cuisine, and we've enjoyed it.

(Because of the unlikeliness any of you will actually visit Kosovo, I'm going to omit locations for the time being. This place is tiny (in the city of Pristina, "far" means 15 minutes drive away), giving directions can be maddening, and I am still getting my bearings.  If you are coming here let me know and I will tell you where things are.)

So: the restaurants, first impressions.  We've had at least four very good meals here, and one that nears outstanding.  For absurd prices.  The one outstanding meal was at a restaurant that serves traditional Albanian cuisine, but you can also find very good Italian, likely a legacy of Italian influence in the region and the fact that fresh produce is widely available here this time of year. Tiffany's, in downtown Pristina, serves "pure" Albanian-Kosovar cuisine based around baking dishes in a very hot wood fired oven: mantia (small balls of layered phyllo and ground meat, covered in yogurt and baked), lamb "tava" (baked lamb in a yogurt gravy until it is fall-off-the-bone tender), and of course the traditional Balkan shopska salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and a very salty soft brined cheese.  All of these are accompanied by piping hot bread ("buke," rhymes with "Luke").  Meals at Tiffany's are served family style and there is no menu: you just ask the waiter what they have for the day and have to remember what you want off of their long list of offerings.  All our dishes felt decadent and homey, like someone's grandmother was stuffing us at Thanksgiving.  The mantia in particular were my favorite. The sheer amount of work involved boggles my mind -- they made the phyllo from scratch, baked small dumplings I can only think of as "meat baklava," and then proceeded to cover these dumplings in yogurt and bake them again.  But the result was a soft, gooey exterior and that flaky and buttery phyllo crunch in the middle.  Unreal.  Also unreal: three of us ate there until we were stuffed to the gills and sweating excess yogurt.  The bill came to twenty bucks (including two glasses of local white wine).

Other notable places in town that we've tried: Pinocchio (Italian, amazing views overlooking town, good service), Five Senses (Pinocchio minus the views and a bit cheaper), and a Serbian restaurant closer to the Gracanica monastery that served this delicious dish of a spicy pickled pepper stuffed with feta-esque cheese dish I'm dying to try again.  The latter restaurant is also notable for having lots of pork on the menu -- not something you can find in Albanian parts of town. Oddly, the Serbian place calls itself a pizzeria, but no one goes there for the pizza.

I am not an objective judge of service quality here.  According to my employer, I speak professional-fluency Albanian, and when the locals hear someone clearly not "one of them" speaking Albanian they tend to go out of their way to welcome them. Plus we're dining with a baby, and they *love* babies here.  That said, service can at times be a bit slow and inattentive, like any developing country (or a number of spots in New York and DC.) Persistence pays off.  Tipping, by the way, is seen as unnecessary but welcome if you want to.

More to come, particularly more specific stories about going out to dine here.  All the best to you, my foodie friends back home!

(in case you are curious, here's a shot from the back of my house of the exterior of the city.  No, that's not a nuclear plant, that's just another coal stack from two of the dirtiest power plants in Europe.)

K

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We've now been in Kosovo for about a month, and I'm sad to report that the combination of adjusting to a new job, getting the baby adjusted to a new life, and some late nights at work has meant we haven't explored the restaurant scene as much as I would like.  Hopefully that will change soon!

What I have managed to do is start a tour of the beers of the region. Despite being relatively small, each of these little Balkan states has at least one beer they call their own, and though they're all variations on your standard eastern European lager, they're fairly different.  Right now I'm working on a can of Kaon, a mediocre lager from Albania just a touch sharper than it's fellow Albanian brew Tirana.  Both are watery, but if it's hot out and the beer is served cold, they both suffice.

Better are Jelen and Niksicko, from Serbia and Montenegro respectively.  We've only been able to find Jelen in the Serbian enclaves of Kosovo, but it's malty and goes well with our standard Serbian meal of grilled pork with a side of more pork.  Niksicko is easier to find, including in plastic two litre bottles at almost all the grocery stores.  The flavor is pretty close to Jelen, actually, but don't tell the Montenegrins that.

The best beers so far, in my opinion, are Peja, the local Kosovo brew, and Skopsko, from Macedonia.  Skopsko is the hoppiest of all the beers I've tried yet, close to what Budvar tasted like back in the day.  Peja is crisp and clean, and at one euro a bottle almost everywhere, is my go-to.

Left to try -- Lasko, from Slovenia, the various beers of Croatia, and the whatever Bosnia produces.  I've got a bottle of Lasko in the fridge but finding Bosnian and Croatian beer is proving to be a bit more difficult.  I'll let you know.

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(in case you are curious, here's a shot from the back of my house of the exterior of the city.  No, that's not a nuclear plant, that's just another coal stack from two of the dirtiest power plants in Europe.)

K

With the exception of the power plants, and it was raining so we didn't have a good sunset, your pic looks like some of the villages I drove through today in Switzerland on the way to a hike in the Alps.

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This post is not about Kosovo, but I'd like to keep it in this thread as I suspect I'll be traveling the Balkans quite a bit.  Don, arrange how you think is most appropriate.

Skopje, Macedonia, is a boring city (in my opinion and compared to Pristina) filled with plaster statues and fountains that make the entire place feel like the Bellagio. There is old beauty, and culture, and life to be found. But you have to look for it across the river, in the old part, the old Albanian bazaar.

In the bazaar, we had our anniversary dinner at Pivnica An, an unbearably cute space sunken in what was, I believe, an old hamam. We had a simple meal, bread, salad, and Muckalica, a delicious pork and tomato stew. I was surprised by the muckalica, different than other stew-y dishes I have had.

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Wow, that last entry cut off abruptly!  I know I had more to say at the time... but I can't remember what it was for the life of me.  So it goes.

In other news, our car finally arrived in Kosovo, freeing us from only being able to go to restaurants in relative walking distance.  There are numerous very tempting places outside of Pristina proper that I've been dying to try!

Last night, we drove about a mile outside of town to Tokyo, the only nominally "Japanese" restaurant I know of in Kosovo.  I say nominal because the staff are entirely Filipino, serving Japanese basics (teriyaki chicken, miso soup, basic sushi) alongside some Filipino dishes.  We stuck to Japanese this time because I was having a craving, but I wasn't brave enough to try the sushi.

We started with seaweed salad and spring rolls.  The seaweed was, in a word, terrible, the gloppiest and most tasteless seaweed I have ever had.  i was surprised because I know there is an importer somewhere around here selling the standard neon-green seaweed salad you can pick up at Harris Teeter, as I had a bowl of it at a restaurant in Skopje a few weeks ago.  But this was something else, and it was nasty.  After two bites it went uneaten. The spring rolls were simply OK, served hot and greasy with a side bowl of a red sauce that was neither Sriracha or sweet and sour sauce (I suspect it was doctored ketchup).

Main dishes didn't exactly disappoint us, but they were certainly not good.  Marisa had what she called "standard" chicken teriyaki, while after two failed ordering attempts (no udon, sorry, no pork, sorry) I had chicken on the chef's "special" noodles.  His special noodles were clearly some sort of minute ramen, not low quality but a bit of an insult to the word special.  It was all sauteed in soy sauce, with your standard carrot/onion/spring onion veggie mix.  I've cooked better at home, and it was closer to Chinese than Japanese.

So after all that, why did I leave the restaurant happy?  Because we're learning that though there are many, many restaurants here, far too many of them are extremely similar.  There are only a few places in town that serve anything other than traditional Albanian food, Italian-ish food, pizzas, or grilled meat.  Tokyo is one of the few doing something different.  You pay a premium -- dinner for two with drinks was 30 euro, highway robbery around these parts -- but for the sake of variety it was worth it.

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One day, two nights in a tiny village an hour north of Sofia, Bulgaria.  A nice escape from Kosovo and, more importantly, from the city.  We had mostly home-cooked meals over our short stay, including several large portions of home-made banitsa, a terrific breakfast, appetiser, or road trip snack. We have another pound of the stuff in our fridge -- seems the trend of me losing weight here will end very soon.

For our last night in Bulgaria we went to a local restaurant, where we all shared traditional Bulgarian stews -- pork, chicken, and beef -- and salads.  I also had shkembe, Bulgarian tripe soup.  The soup was a mildly flavored stock I was encouraged to doctor with garnishes of garlic, vinegar, and chili pepper. What I ended up with was basically menudo without the onion and cilantro.  And it turns out shkembe, like menudo, is renowned as a hangover cure.

Who knew?

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Tonight we decided it was high time we tried Himalayan Gorkha, the only Nepalese restaurant we know of in Kosovo. That last clause feels funny -- "the only Nepalese restaurant in Kosovo" is like "the only kosher deli in Ulanbataar," as if the adjective "only" is really necessary.

Anyway.

It was good!  Not very good, but good!  Closer to Indian than Nepali, really. The chicken momos were different than others I've had, filled with a (delicious) mildly curried ground meat mix. I had their "chow mein," which was noodles stir fried with carrot, peppers, egg, chicken, and dried beef. Doctored with some spicy cilantro chutney, it wasn't amazing but was fairly good.  Marisa's lamb rogan josh was better, more tomato heavy than other rogan josh curries I've tried and quite punchy, though not spicy.  The naan was actually good, too. Not as doughy as some versions but warm, slathered in butter, and at 1 euro a basket well priced.

The waiter kept talking to me in Hindi, a language I once knew, and though I tried valiantly my responses kept coming out in Albanian.  If you've ever had the experience of one language replacing another in your mind, you'll understand how frustrating that is.

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This post is not about Kosovo, but I'd like to keep it in this thread as I suspect I'll be traveling the Balkans quite a bit.  Don, arrange how you think is most appropriate.

Skopje, Macedonia, is a boring city (in my opinion and compared to Pristina) filled with plaster statues and fountains that make the entire place feel like the Bellagio. There is old beauty, and culture, and life to be found. But you have to look for it across the river, in the old part, the old Albanian bazaar.

In the bazaar, we had our anniversary dinner at Pivnica An, an unbearably cute space sunken in what was, I believe, an old hamam. We had a simple meal, bread, salad, and Muckalica, a delicious pork and tomato stew. I was surprised by the muckalica, different than other stew-y dishes I have had.

This reminds me of when I went to visit my cousin who was spending the year in Zagreb a couple years ago. We traveled to a suburb to go a restaurant where we gorged on a variety of delicious meats. It was sunken in to the ground and had the look of a cave. Cousin remarked that the Balkans have an obsession with sunken/cave restaurants (I recall going to another one in central Zagreb).

Your comment about the Japanese restaurant was interesting. I remember actually having a decent Japanese meal in Zagreb. Unfortunately, that trip was a brief one and I didn't have the time to travel elsewhere in the region.

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I think I've found the single most unhealthy food this part of the world has to offer: steak "karadjordjeva."  That's a cutlet (pork or beef, usually) rolled around cheese, breaded, fried, and topped with tartar sauce.  And served with fries.  We had this after a long drive back from Bulgaria, served at Bella Vista, a fine Serbian restaurant in Laple Selo, a local Serb enclave just outside of Pristina near the highway to Skopje.

If you're in the mood for fried meet stuffed with cheese, this is a good dish to try -- but it is a lot of fat.  Not for the faint of heart -- or the weak of heart, I suppose.  Also, it does indeed look like a phallus.

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Tonight I went to a pretty fun jazz concert and came home with my ears ringing.  I am exhausted and should got to bed, but instead I'm here sipping rakia from the Decani Monastery. If you visit Kosovo, Decani is one of about three places you cannot miss.  The wine from the monastery is excellent, as is the rakia, though the red wine is by far the best of their options.

Oddly enough, their are no vineyards around the Monastery itself.  They are located some hours away by car in the amazing town of Velika Hoca, which at one point was home to twelve vineyards, each of which belonged to a different monastery in the area.  This is all the more amazing when you consider Velika Hoca is the size of a postage stamp -- we walked from one side to the other in a little less than ten minutes.  Each vineyard has its own church, each church has its own Orthodox decor, and they are all subtly different.  My first sip of Decani rakia was straight from the still, given to me by Decani monastery's resident monk-slash-vintner, Father Marko.  He was quite drunk when he gave me the glass (it was the village's festival day) so his explanation of the process of making rakia escapes me.  But the taste he put quite well: "It burns a bit," he said. "That's how you know it is good."

Having never had bathtub gin or moonshine, I can't make a legit comparison, but I suspect the homemade rakia I've had here in the Balkans comes quite close. If so, the rakia from Decani is a beautifully refined version of that. With just the right amount of ice, and served quite cold, I think it makes a terrific digestif.

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post-115-0-33830200-1385822644_thumb.jpgpost-115-0-29084400-1385822624_thumb.jpgA few weeks ago Marisa and I took advantage of unseasonably warm weather to venture out for lunch at Country House, a restaurant we'd heard much about but never taken the initiative to try.  It's a bit of a bear to find, a right turn off a secondary artery, onto an unmarked dirt road you can only access by going through the "parking lot" ("patch of flattened dirt") of a Mercedes dealership.  It's then another kilometer or two down one of the worst roads I've ever been on here (and that's saying something), climbing steadily until reaching a stone building, probably from at least the 1950s, at the road's end.  Walking in, just past the host station, you see the kitchen, totally open and dominated by a massive, extremely hot wood-burning oven.  In the winter the oven probably makes the interior of Country House warm and inviting, but on this unexpectedly warm day we made a beeline for the large deck, which overlooks miles and miles of bucolic farmland, a few minutes and a lifetime from the smog of Pristina.

I took the opportunity to introduce Marisa to flia, the national dish of Kosovo.  It's layers and layers of dough, interspersed with butter, yogurt, or cheese, and then backed over a hot fire for a very long time.  Frankly, it's not that good; even the "best" renditions leave me feeling like I've eaten a moderately flavorless brick soaked in butter.  Better were the roasted sweet peppers, served with a light yogurt sauce, another traditional Kosovar plate.  We also had some warm bread to dip in the yogurt, and it was amazing -- as good as any fresh baked bread I've ever tried, though a bit hazardous for your fingertips. (The bread here in Kosovo is often very very good, which makes the fact that the one south Asian restaurant here has such utterly mediocre naan all the more confusing.)

My entree, chicken breast with a mushroom sauce served over rice, was just OK.  But Marisa's tave Elbasan (she's starting to really love tave Elbasan) was outstanding, and fed the two of us for two meals.  The tave Elbasan was five euros; total bill, with two glasses of wine, came to just over 20 euros.

A few days after our trip to Country House the temperature here plummeted.  It's not getting over 45 in the daytime, and we had our first snowfall the day before Thanksgiving.  That lunch on the deck of Country House was likely the last outdoor meal we'll have in Kosovo until April at the earliest.  I can still taste the bread, and if we're feeling brave we may try going down that road, winter be damned, to try the other traditional dishes they feature on their longer-than-normal menu.  Thank goodness we have a Subaru.

Attached are some shots of the view from Country House's deck.

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I keep hoping this thread generates responses of some sort, but realize that it's highly unlikely given the fact that a) few people want to know about Kosovo and b ) fewer people want to visit Kosovo.

So I'm unashamed to post that in the midst of a day of election monitoring here I and two of my colleagues went to the Sabaja Brewery's restaurant, where we had burgers -- or more correctly for me and one of my colleagues, bacon cheeseburgers -- and commented to each other "they taste just like American burgers!"  It was fantastic and I am not ashamed at all to report that I'm quite homesick, and so perhaps loved it a bit too much.

If you are in Kosovo and want a real American burger, go to Sabaja.  It's still not exactly right, but nothing else comes close.

Edited to add: my two colleagues were Kosovars.

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Three years later!  Despite silence on this thread, my culinary adventures in Kosovo and the western Balkans continued.  Quick version: the best food, by far, is in the towns of Kotor and Perast in Montenegro.  In general. Montenegro is an undisputed gem currently dominated by Russian tourists quickly losing their money due to... well you know.

If you are headed in the direction of the Montenegrin coast let me know and I'll get you more specific info.  Were I a rich man, I would buy a home in Perast, and spend my summers eating mussels and swimming in the bay.

But this post isn't about that!  I spent literally eight months of my life arranging a television show about food in Kosovo featuring Top Chef winner Kevin Sbraga.  I have never eaten at his restaurants, but I can confirm he is a wonderful, caring, kind, curious person.  Really a pleasure.  

Here's a youtube link to the show.  You can see me speaking terrible Albanian at around 49 minutes 20 seconds in.
 

 

 

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On 12/1/2013 at 4:54 PM, Kanishka said:

I keep hoping this thread generates responses of some sort, but realize that it's highly unlikely given the fact that a) few people want to know about Kosovo and b ) fewer people want to visit Kosovo.

Kanishka, this website is being set up to exist in perpetuity. One day, after I'm gone, Kosovo will have a forum - bank on that. And what you're writing now will be some of the earliest historical "I was there" internet writing about Kosovar cuisine. You may not think what you're doing is important, but that's only because you're not thinking long-term enough.

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Trivia: What country has the most coffee houses, per capita, in the world?

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Mouse over for a hint: It's not Kosovo (I'm still not sure if Kosovo is a country or not - it depends on who (and where) you ask.)

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Mouse over for the answer: Albania

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On 7/15/2020 at 4:57 AM, DonRocks said:

Trivia: What country has the most coffee houses, per capita, in the world?

---

Mouse over for a hint: It's not Kosovo (I'm still not sure if Kosovo is a country or not - it depends on who (and where) you ask.)

---

Mouse over for the answer: Albania

Yet another Coronavirus casualty:  I was really looking forward to getting back to Albania and Kosovo to visit old friends, but they are now in the European red zone for infections.  The Germans would have me quarantine 14 days if I traveled there.  Not worth it.

Oh, while there are more coffee shops in Albania, the Kosovars make better espresso.

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