Vegan Travel Albania
Albania is a wonderful place to visit, with friendly people and beautiful beaches. The beaches remain largely unexplored, and it appears that now is the best time to visit before the rest of the world realizes how wonderful it is and it becomes overwhelmed with visitors.
It was, however, certainly the most difficult nation in which I've tried to eat vegan. This was unfortunate because we were travelling with (omni) friends throughout this portion of the trip, and eating a vegan diet appeared to be rather restricting and typical.
We ate pizza with no cheese and fries for the whole week we were in Albania. This wasn't horrible, but it grew tedious after a while and didn't make us feel our best.
When we arrived in each city or town, we looked at Happy Cow, but there were very few postings. One advantage was that fresh fruit was readily available, so we started most mornings with a couple of bananas and raspberries.
The one meal we had worth noting was a supper we had at Antigoni, a posh restaurant in Berat. We ate rice-stuffed roast veggies, a delicious eggplant dish, and olives.
The sunset cocktails we drank one night at the Panorama Café in Dhermi were a huge pleasure. We remained for a drink or two while watching the sun drop over the water since the scenery was really magnificent.
If you're not vegan and aren't sure what to anticipate, keep in mind that because Albania is on the coast, seafood is a huge deal.
One of our pals ate primarily fresh fish, whereas the other (who is afraid of fish and hence avoids seafood) ate predominantly pizzas and pastas.
Albanian food is inexpensive, with most dinners costing less than $5AUD (except for the fancy seafood meals). Alcohol is similarly inexpensive, with beers costing under $2AUD on average.
Don't be frightened to go; you won't go hungry. Just plan on eating pizza and fries for the next week. It's also a good idea to learn how to say “no cheese” so that your pizza comes out just as you want it (we experienced a few awkward misunderstandings). Albania's natural beauty more than compensates for the absence of vegan cuisine!
I ate a lot in Albania throughout my five-month stay this year, as well as shorter vacations previous years. Because so much of it occurred during the coronavirus lockdown,
I mostly prepared the food for myself. However, after things began to improve, I went out to eat a couple times. I'll summarize a few of these encounters below.
It's worth mentioning that while ‘vegan' is unlikely to be well-understood (though it is in certain places),'vegetarian' is quite acceptable. Don't think that just because you order a number of vegan items and ask for cheese to be removed from some of them, they'll catch the spirit of your needs; be explicit.
In restaurants, I had little trouble changing dishes, and servers in touristic areas spoke excellent English. Personally, I don't ask too many questions regarding butter in the Balkans, and I prefer to believe that because oil is cheaper, it is probably used for cooking the majority of the time.
I often check up traditional recipes for local foods online to get a sense of whether they're likely to be vegan before I go out to eat, so I don't have to have a long debate about it in a restaurant. But that's because I'm socially awkward and conflict-averse.
In Sarandë, I drank the tap water and had no adverse reactions. Other individuals may tell you something different. Many locals and foreigners alike purchase 8L water bottles to take home (which are very cheap).
If you have the opportunity to go into the mountains, a better alternative to both of these is to fill containers with pure mountain water from a wayside spring. They're easily identifiable and well-used.
Going Out To Eat
Vegan alternatives in traditional Albanian cuisine are few, but those that are available are dependably wonderful. Albanians have a penchant of baking items for hours with loads of fresh herbs, and vegetables are fresh, local, and seasonal.
In Shkoder, I immediately learned the hard way that cheese is such an important component that it seldom gets mentioned on menus or by waiters who are otherwise describing meals in great detail in flawless English for you.
It's just as natural to mention the cheese as it is to describe the plate on which the meal is presented. So, even if you can't understand how cheese would fit into what you're getting, always ask for it without it – pa djath. It does, believe me.
Vegan alternatives in Albanian restaurants (not grill establishments) mainly consist of stuffed aubergine (patellxhane te mbushur or Imam bayildi) and stuffed peppers as main courses, as well as a variety of salads, chips/fried potatoes, and grilled vegetables as side dishes.
It's enough to feed a family of four. The stuffed aubergines are my favorite – they're rich, herby, tomatoey bliss – but the stuffed peppers, which are filled with gooey sticky rice, are also delicious. In principle, either of them may be packed with meat, so double-check (asking “vegetarian?” should suffice), although I've never seen this happen in practice.
Potato, okra, and green bean stews are less often accessible, although they are still common. You could also come across Fasule, a dish consisting of white beans in a tomatoey sauce or a thick soup that is one of my favorite Balkan-area cuisines.
You could also stumble across ‘wild cabbage' or ‘mountain herbs' (or ‘wild mountain cabbage herbs' or a mix of the two), which are confusing greens that I never pass up the chance to eat. You could locate Dolma if you're extremely lucky.
Ordering the fried potato side dish at restaurants yielded the nicest chunky, handcut deep fried potatoes I've tasted outside of the UK in my experience. Just like the ones I create for myself.
However, I've heard complaints from individuals who were disappointed to be served frozen fries, so it's possible that this is a hit-or-miss situation, and I was simply really fortunate.
You may go to a fast food restaurant and get something to eat. Any place that serves souvlaki (even if it's not on the menu) can certainly make you a vegetarian or ‘meat-free' souvlaki, which will consist of fries and salad wrapped in thick pita bread or a wrap (remember to ask for no cheese or tzatziki). It won't be the most exciting supper, but it will be quick, inexpensive, and full.
Keep an eye out for bakeries (furre) and byrek restaurants. Byrek is a flaky filo pastry with a filling in layers. They're tasty, substantial, and affordable (50-100 lek for a large slice), and I'm guessing they're prepared with oil rather than butter, but I haven't fully surveyed the bakeries for this information.
You can have them stuffed with onion (gross… if you like that kind of thing..), spinach (delicious! ), and spinaq (which is pronounced the same as English in Albania). I've seen signs for potato byrek (patate) but never found any (as always, check for cheese to be sure.
Occasionally they conceal feta in there) and I've seen signage for potato byrek (patate) but never found any. Byrek, which is likely to be translated as ‘spinach pie,' will be on the menu at many Albanian restaurants.
Apart from that, all pizza joints provide a vegetarian pizza (often referred to as ‘country' or ‘garden' if you can't find ‘vegetariana') that may be ordered without cheese. If you plan on staying a while, visit a few different locations to get the perfect mix and coverage of veggie toppings for the finest pizza-pa-djath experience.
When it wasn't possible to merely go to the nearest pizza business I discovered, I used TripAdvisor to hunt for pizza places with decent reviews. When I ordered cheeseless pizza in Bosnia, I didn't get any of the genuinely perplexed glances from servers. Albanian waiters may simply be more courteous.
If you consume alcoholic beverages, you will be offered local raki wherever you go. I understand that this ranges from decent grade to real paint stripper, so be cautious. There are various local beers that are typically inexpensive and seem to be well-liked.
Turkish style coffee, which you brew in a dzezva/cezva/briki, is the cheapest to buy and prepare yourself (I dunno what they call this in Albania actually). There's a business in Sarandë that will grind it fresh for you and seal it (Benn Kafe, opposite the big Alpha supermarket).
Espresso is the cheapest drink in restaurants. It may be 50lek, but it's generally 70-80, and if it's 100 or more, you should weep (albeit you're presumably paying for a view). I've never seen an Americano on a menu before.
They have freddo espresso, which is my favorite espresso format, at least in the south. Depending on where you are, you can expect to pay 150 to 250 lek for a large coffee with a double shot of espresso and a big head of foam.
I always bring my own bottle of water since, aside from hot beverages and alcoholic beverages, everything, including water, is packaged in plastic bottles. I'll order tea if I forget, but it'll typically be cheap teabags, which makes me cranky as well.
Unless mountain tea is on the menu, in which case you should get it. It's fresh and delicious, plus it's from the area. You could get a glass of water with your espresso in certain locations, but don't bank on it.
Surprisingly few places provided fresh juice, which was usually orange and always costly. I'm surprised that limunade (diluted fresh lemon juice), which was my go-to in Bosnia and most of the rest of the Balkans, isn't available anywhere.
Continue reading for restaurant recommendations for the locations I visited.
There are only a few grocery selections. Even tiny stores in Tirana and tourist attractions like Sarandë will sell plant milk but expect them to be pricey, dusty, and perhaps out of date.
There's a brand called ‘Valsoia' that sells cream cheese and margarine at Conad supermarkets in Tirana (and possibly other cities with Conad, although I'm not sure). It's both pricey and little.
There's also a chance you'll come upon some tofu. Late in my time in Sarandë, I learned that the Vitam (BITAM) Greek brand of margarine is 100 percent plant-based, isn't too pricey, and is widely accessible, which improved my baking moving forward.
However, I'd be amazed if you could buy solid vegan cheese, seitan, or any processed meat alternatives anyplace in the nation (let me know if you do!).
However, if you enjoy cooking, there are a plethora of things you can make with the excellent affordable local veggies, as well as the dry beans, chickpeas, grains, and pulses that abound. The markets are great, and supermarkets and bulk stores both sell dried goods by the pound, without the use of plastic.
I was able to get flaxseed quite readily and at a reasonable price, although it was whole rather than ground. Tahini and coconut oil are available, however, they are highly pricey and come in little jars.
Neranxi, a catering wholesaler having at least outlets in Tirana and Sarandë, is worth highlighting. They carry a lot of foreign things that aren't available anyplace else (miso! agar agar! huge bottles of tabasco sauce!) and bulk grains, seeds, dried fruit, and beans, among other things.
The capital, Tirana, provides the finest assortment of vegetarian-friendly foods. There are several juice and smoothie cafes, as well as bio shops with a good assortment of groceries.
I'd go to Happycow and see what's available. If you're going through Tirana on your way to a more rural section of Albania, it's a good idea to stock up on supplies first.
As far as I'm aware, there is only one entirely vegetarian restaurant, Veggies. It's pricey for Albania, and the menu has a wide variety of delicacies from many cuisines (although not Albanian), as well as a number of ‘superfood' items.
It's evident which items are vegan, and the meal is tasty and generously portioned. When I've visited – at regular evening meal times – the atmosphere has been weird, with no other diners and the waiter/chef having nothing to do and nowhere to hide while you're eating, so you feel like you're being watched.
I've also eaten at oko, where the falafel ‘burger' (which is actually a pita) is decent and comes with a variety of toppings. They also provide specialty juices, offer outside dining, and are located on a busy thoroughfare.
It's pointless for me to include the images because they were dark and difficult to see. I had leftovers since the portions were substantial.
Oda is a classic Albanian eatery with delectable vegetarian alternatives. I essentially tried some of everything vegan, which includes all of the typical Albanian foods I mentioned before.
When compared to Tirana and the Riviera, eating out in Shkoder is really affordable. I stayed for a week.
At Stolia, I had avocado toast for my first meal. Despite the fact that I had spoken well with the waiter, it came with cheese on it, which was not specified anywhere. I snatched it up and went about my business. This cafe seemed a little posh to me, but it was a lovely setting.
They recognized what vegan meant at Shega e Egar and were able to recommend or adjust recipes for me. I got a veggie ciabatta and fresh juice on one of my visits. I had a substantial smoothie another time. It's also a pretty pleasant place, with an outdoor bench and a power outlet upstairs that's a little quieter.
The North Hub, the hostel where I stayed, has a partnership with Manifatura, the pizza shop next door. Breakfast is available at the hostel, and there are a handful of practically vegan options on the menu that they will adjust for you (and I took my own plant milk for the museli one day). I got pizza there a few times because it was convenient and there was a hostel discount.
Peja Grill, where I ate Albanian cuisine, offered so many alternatives that I went back twice. Fresh juice, including lemon, was also available. The staff was pleasant, and I spent some time there reading my kindle.
Pasta e Vino was suggested by a number of individuals, including the walking tour guide and hostel staff. I'd go again since there are various vegan pasta options on the menu when the cheese is eliminated, and the orecchiette with aubergine and cherry tomatoes I had was delicious. It's one of those dinners that I remember even a year afterwards.
Sarandë – Throughout The Year
Many locations in Sarandë are only open during the summer/tourist season, so double-check before you get your hopes up about visiting. I dubbed this part ‘all year round,' although I can only speak for the off-season from March to May.
Inquire about “that inexpensive Albanian restaurant that's extremely wonderful and has a lot of vegan options?” Te Beqoa, they'll say (Tuh-betcha).
There are two locations, one in town near the park and the other to the south on Rruga Butrinti (the latter just opened this summer, and I'm not sure if it will be open during the winter). The largely vegan veggie selection is the most I've seen at one spot in Sarandë, and it's all incredibly tasty, filling, and inexpensive.
I dream about the potato stew. Other stews with aubergine, peppers, and beans, all thick and tomatoey, are available. Of course, they have stuffed aubergine and peppers. They serve everything with hefty white bread and a delicious Fasul soup.
There's also a salad menu, which includes a pickle plate, which I adore. The majority of the food is prepared ahead of time and displayed at the counter. The staff encourages you to have a look around and point out anything that appeals to you.
This also implies that service is quite quick. The staff is kind, and the WiFi is reliable. The main downside is that they don't serve tea or coffee, and only supply water in bottles (unless you make a fuss about plastic, in which case you can receive a free glass of water poured from a bigger bottle, which is a slight improvement).
This is a solid option for a spot to have supper every day if you don't prepare and are on a budget. It's also quite popular with locals, therefore it's open year-round.
Furre Kosova, near the bus station/park, is my favorite bakery in Sarandë. They offer the tastiest spinach byrek, and they have a fantastic bread assortment, including bread rolls that taste just like my favorite Bosnian somun. As I'd stop there every time I was in town, the lady who worked there became a familiar face.
Bulla's Corner is another site in town that is open during the off-season. This is fast food, but they offer no-meat souvlaki on the menu for 150 leks, and they'll gladly leave out the cheese and tzatziki in favour of ketchup. The only thing on the menu is fries and salad, but the bread is delicious. If you're famished and have had your fill of byrek for the week, this is a nice fast choice.
Piceri Alfa once served me a no-cheese pizza. Because they had a large pizza oven, I assumed they'd be good. It cost 1000 lek and was of poor quality. Don't waste your time. A 300-600lek vegetarian pizza is ideal.
Limani is a popular and expensive restaurant in the heart of town, featuring indoor and patio seating that juts out over the river. It's impossible to miss. It's a little more expensive, but it's one of the few locations that accept credit cards.
The service is excellent, and the cuisine is delicious. I've had pizzas, salads, freddo espresso, and fresh orange juice there, as well as morning bruschetta (I ate that before remembering to take a photo).
It's a favorite hangout for ex-pats and international visitors, so expect to hear a lot of English if you stay for a while. There's plenty of room to work on your laptop without feeling obtrusive, the internet is strong, and you can sit right next to the ocean.
Sarandë – Tourist Season (Summer)
Because of the pandemic, things took longer than normal to open up this year. On the other side, if the pandemic hadn't struck, I wouldn't have been stranded in Sarandë and wouldn't have had the opportunity to see any of these sites.
Salad Farm is located on Rruga Butrinti, which is out of town and inconvenient for many people, but handy for me because I lived across the street. It serves ‘classic Californian' cuisine and is owned and operated by Californians.
They farm and pickle a lot of the vegetables themselves, or at least try to, and they utilize recyclable materials to reduce waste. Vegan options include a falafel salad and a falafel and hummus wrap, although practically everything on the menu can be made vegan.
Because the majority of the salads and dressings are already vegan, this usually only entails eliminating the meat and/or cheese. These salads are massive and packed with unusual ingredients like curried wheat, noodles, fruit, avocado, and beans, so veganizing them isn't a big deal.
Fresh handmade flatbread is served with wraps. The lemonade is also fresh, and it's served bottomless in true American fashion. Because they have coconut milk and soy milk on hand, almost all of the smoothies can be made vegan. If you need to power up for the day, you can also order a pint of cold press coffee!
My favourite dish is the roast cauliflower; it isn't vegan by default because the bread is made with egg, but if you ask, they can substitute whatever other wonderful liquids they have on hand, in my case a mixture of fava water and coconut milk.
It's quite tasty. Salad Farm is also a pleasant location to work, both indoors and out, and is home to Banksy, a friendly neighbourhood stray dog. Vegan sweets on the way? Keep an eye out for updates.
Bake'n Grill is almost across the street from the Salad Farm. From a vegan standpoint, it didn't have the most appetizing name, but it was in the basement of my building, so when they opened late in the summer, I figured I'd give it a try.
Baked veggies are on their daily specialties menu, however, they only serve one of the items on the list every day, and it wasn't baked vegetables when I visited. Instead, they offered to make a special for me in tomorrow's daily special. So I ordered a plate of gently spicy penne arrabbiata, salad, and chips, and they sent a platter of fresh fruit as a complimentary dessert.
The next day, I came for the baked veggies, which were fantastic and included stuffed aubergine and peppers. They also handed me fruit once again. Their fresh orange juice is pricey, but it comes in a large glass. So there aren't many alternatives here, but the staff is kind. I wouldn't go out of my way to go, but if it's close by, you couldn't do much worse.
The outside seating at Pizza Roel is primarily popular since it sits on the seaside of the road, with great views over the bay. Their pizza is also decent.
They have two veggie options, both of which are much the same, with the standard assortment of grilled veggies (it reads ‘pumpkin,' which is a classic mistranslation of courgette/zucchini before you get your hopes up about pumpkin on pizza…). Their freddo espresso, as well as their pricing, are excellent.
I went to Haxhi for a great meal with a bunch of ex-pats. The meal was planned for a large party, but I double-checked ahead of time to be sure there would be plenty of vegan options, and sure enough,
I was easily satisfied with the delicious food. They even served hashure, a classic dessert made with farro (wheat) and walnuts. It's cruelty-free! I ate a bunch before realizing it contained walnuts, and later that evening, I had to deal with the headache that resulted.
I'm not sure what the usual menu at Haxhi looks like – it grabbed my attention before because of its great design, but it appears to be fish-focused – but the family who runs it speaks fantastic English, so you'd probably figure something out.
Lemon Sorbet Is Available At Kayak In Town.
Përmet has a lot of good traditional meal alternatives, however, I only stayed for two nights. At Trifilia, I had wild cabbage, mountain herbs soup, fried potatoes, and stuffed aubergine, while at Antigonea, I had dolma, fasule, and wild herb byrek. Both are excellent choices.
Along Albania's Mediterranean Coast
The handmade ravioli at Guesthouse Alberti in Llogora National Park was the greatest meal I had on my Riviera road trip. There's one with spinach, tomato, and rukola, and it's delicious. They also provide salads and fried potatoes, as well as a range of different pasta meals.
On the beach in Borsh, at Ciao Borsh, I had a strangely wonderful pizza. There's probably nothing else worth trying or avoiding at this point. If you really want to know everything, go to /eat for May and search for restaurant names in brackets.
I just spent an afternoon in Gjirokastër, but it deserves its own section because of the delicious meal I had there. Taverna Tradiçionale is a largely vegetarian(!) restaurant with vegan options. I came just in time for their stuffed aubergine and peppers to be hot off the grill.
They had just cooked a feta-filled spinach byrek, but they were able to conjure up some cheese-free byrek later, and it was on the house.
They also created vegetarian kofte (meatballs) for me when I heard a rumour (aka reading on Happy Cow) that they had them! It was essentially herb dough balls, but it was still fun. They also provided a complimentary dessert of fruit coated with cinnamon.
I'd have wanted to sample qifqi – rice balls – a vegetarian delicacy of Gjirokastr, but they're bonded with egg.
Albania is a beautiful country and it is well worth going for a trip to Albania. However, you have to be very flexible as a vegan, because it is rather difficult to find vegan food in Albania.
I trust you enjoyed this article about the Vegan Travel Albania. Please stay tuned for more blog posts to come shortly. Take care!
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