rhiaro

Timezone: Europe/London (10th Aug 00:53)

Currently is at home (for 2 days, 9 hours, 39 minutes, and 38 seconds)

You may know me from..

Last ate 4 hours, 47 minutes, and 46 seconds ago (Lemon cake; tea)

Last exercised 19 days, 16 hours, 49 minutes, and 33 seconds ago

Budget: nothing spent so far this month

Words written this month (5211 of posts and fiction)

Week in review: 3-9 August

  • Ate lots of vegan junk food.
  • Wrote about food in Albania and everything else I did in Albania.
  • Did lots of OpenActive nodejs stuff.. and finally finished! The bulk of it, anyway. And then actually started to take some time to think about Co-op stuff again. I've been drafted into the Resilience Group rotation, which is the emergency subgroup who think about how to keep us all functioning during current crisis..
  • Made exciting plans for when I can come out of isolation next week...
  • Crocheted two things.
  • Enjoyed limited sunshine.
  • Started reading A Close and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers (on actual paper).
  • Watched all of season 2 of The Umbrella Academy.
  • Made a silly toy for generating simple unicode charts..

🏷 life hacking food vegan week in review ods crochet uk

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🗁Added 10 photos to album UK summer 2020.

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An improv headband, because I found a tiny ball of nice aqua yarn with gold an silver flex that I really wanted to do something with. And a 'mandala' cardigan in mermaid colours, big enough for a very small person..

🗁Added 5 photos to album Homemade food.

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I made Chocolate Covered Katie's zucchini muffins with courgette from Mum's garden, replacing her apple sauce with almond milk, using normal white flour, and caster sugar. Mine look completely different. They could have done with 5 more minutes in the oven. Delicious and gooey though.

Found a packet of ramen at the back of a cupboard and enjoyed my first ramen in months (with Fry's polonly not-sausage (!! <3), tomatoes from H's garden, peppers, edamame, garlic and chillis from Mum's garden, peanut sauce.

And tried to bring a bit of Albania home with stuffed aubergine and pepper...

Vegan in Albania

During five consecutive months in Albania this year, plus shorter trips last year, I have done a lot of eating in Albania. Mostly I cooked for myself, because a large chunk of that was during the coronavirus lockdown. But when things started to open up again, I did eat at restaurants a few times. I'll round up some of these experiences here.

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It's worth noting that 'vegan' is unlikely to be a well-understood word (though some places do know it) but 'vegetarian' is fine. Don't assume that because you start ordering a bunch of vegan dishes, and asking to remove cheese from some things, they'll get the gist of your requirements - be specific about everything. I never had a problem modifying dishes in restaurants, and waiters in touristy places spoke good English. Personally in the Balkans I don't ask too many questions about butter, and like to imagine that since oil is cheaper it is probably used for cooking most of the time. I also look for traditional recipes online for local dishes to get the impression if they're probably vegan before I go somewhere to try them, so I don't have to have too detailed a conversation about it in a restaurant. But that's because I'm conflict-averse and socially awkward.

I drank the tap water in Sarandë and experienced no ill effects. You might hear otherwise from other people. Lots of locals and expats alike buy 8L bottles of water for home (which are very cheap). A better option to both of these, if you have the opportunity to drive into the mountains, is to fill containers up with fresh mountain water from a roadside spring. They're easy to spot and well-used.

Eating out

Traditional Albanian food is limited for vegans, but what options there are typically consistently delicious. Vegetables are fresh, local and seasonal, and Albanians have a habit of baking things for hours using lots of fresh herbs.

One thing I quickly learnt the hard way in Shkoder was that cheese is such a fundamental ingredient it hardly bears mentioning, either on menus or by waiters who are otherwise describing dishes in great detail in perfect English for you. It makes as much sense to mention the cheese as it would to mention the plate the meal comes served on. So always always ask for without cheese - pa djathë - even if you can't see how cheese would have a place in what you're ordering. Trust me, it does.

Getting vegan options at Albanian restaurants (not grill places) usually leaves you with stuffed aubergine (patëllxhane të mbushur or Imam bayildi) and stuffed peppers as main dishes, and a variety of salads plus chips/fried potatoes and grilled vegetables as a side. It's enough to make a meal. I love the stuffed aubergines most of all - they are rich, herby, tomatoey goodness - and the stuffed peppers - packed with gooey sticky rice - are really good as well. In theory, either of these could be stuffed with meat, so it's worth to check (asking "vegetarian?" should do the trick) but I never found a case of this in practice.

Less consistently available, but still not uncommon, are things like potato, okra or green bean stews. You might also find fasule - white beans in a tomatoey sauce or as a thick soup, which is one of my favourite Balkan-vicinity dishes. You may also come across 'wild cabbage' or 'mountain herbs' (or 'wild mountain cabbage herbs' or other combination) which are ambiguous greens that I never pass up an opportunity to eat. If you're really lucky, you'll find dolma.

In my experience, ordering the fried potato side dish in restaurants resulted in the best chunky, handcut deep fried potatoes I've had outside of the UK. Just like I make myself. But I have heard reports from people expressing disappointment in getting served frozen fries, so this might be hit and miss and I just got really lucky.

You could pick something up at a fast food place. Anywhere that has souvlaki can probably throw you together a vegetarian or 'meat-free' souvlaki (even if it's not on the menu), which is going to consist of fries and salad in some chunky pita bread or a wrap (remember to ask for no cheese or tzatziki). Not the most compelling meal, but it'll be fast, cheap and filling.

Look out for bakeries (furre) and byrek places. Byrek is a flaky filo pastry in layers with some filling. They're delicious and hearty and dead cheap (50-100 lek for a big piece) and probably made with oil and not butter, though I'll admit I haven't thoroughly canvassed the bakeries for this information. You can find them filled with onion (gross.. I mean.. if you like that sort of thing..), spinach (yum! and spinaq in Albania is easy to recognise and pronounced the same as English. As ever, do check for cheese though to be sure, sometimes they hide feta in there) and I've seen signage for potato byrek (patate) but never actually found any available. Many Albanian restaurants will also have byrek on the menu, likely translated as 'spinach pie'.

Apart from that, all pizza places have a veggie pizza (sometimes called 'country' or 'garden' if you can't find 'vegetariana') which you can ask for without cheese. If you're there for a while, you can try a few places to look for the best combination and coverage of veggie toppings to optimise your pizza-pa-djathë experience. My tactic was just to look on tripadvisor for pizza places with good reviews, when it wasn't a case of just dropping into the nearest pizza place I found. I don't think I had any of the truly baffled looks from waiters that I had in Bosnia when ordering cheeseless pizza. Perhaps Albanian waiters are just more polite.

Beverages

If you drink alcohol, you'll be plied with local raki wherever you go. This varies from good quality stuff to literal paint stripper, I gather, so beware. There are several local beers which are generally cheap and people seem to enjoy them.

The cheapest coffee to buy to prepare yourself is Turkish style, that you make in a dzezva/cezva/briki (I dunno what they call this in Albania actually). In Sarandë there's a place that will grind it for you fresh an seal it up (Benn Kafe, opposite the big Alpha supermarket).

In restaurants, espresso is the cheapest. It can be 50lek, it is usually 70-80, you should cry if it's 100 or more (but you're probably paying for a view). I've rarely seen Americano on a menu. In the south, at least, they have freddo espresso, which is my favourite espresso format. You're looking at 150 to 250 lek depending on location, and they are usually large with a double shot of coffee and a thick head of foam.

I always take my own bottle of water because besides hot drinks and alcohol, everything comes in plastic bottles, including water. If I forget I'll order tea, but it's usually just cheap teabags which makes me grumpy too. Unless you see mountain tea on the menu - then get that! It's local and delicious. Some places will give you a glass of water with your espresso, but don't count on it. Surpringly few places had fresh juice - always orange, always expensive. I'm in shock that nowhere does limunade (diluted fresh lemon juice) which was my go-to in Bosnia and much of the rest of the Balkans.

Read on for specific restaurant recommendations for the places I visited.

Groceries

In terms of groceries, options are limited. In Tirana and tourist hotspots like Sarandë, even small shops will have plant milks, but be prepared for these to be expensive, dust-covered and possibly out of date. In Conad supermarket in Tirana (and presumably other cities with Conad, but I don't know for sure) there's a brand 'Valsoia' which has cream cheese and margarine. It's expensive and tiny. You might also find some tofu. I discovered late in my stay in Sarandë that the Vitam (BITAM) Greek brand of margarine is 100% plant-based, and isn't so expensive and is available everywhere, so that made baking better going forward. But I'd be surprised if you find solid vegan cheese, seitan, or any processed meat substitutes anywhere in the country (if you do let me know!).

But if you like to cook, then there are lots of things you can do with amazing cheap local vegetables, and dried beans, chickpeas, grains and pulses which abound. The markets are fantastic, and supermarkets and bulk stores offer many dried things by weight, without plastic, as well.

I found flaxseed easily and cheaply, but whole not ground. Coconut oil and tahini are available, but are very expensive and in small jars.

It's worth mentioning Neranxi, a catering wholesaler with stores in Tirana and Sarandë at least. They have lots of imported goods that you can't get anywhere else (miso! agar agar! giant bottles of tabasco sauce!) and sell grains, seeds, dried fruit and beans etc in bulk.

Tirana

Tirana, as the capital, has the best selection of veg-friendly things. There are tons of juice and smoothie bars, and bio stores with decent grocery selections. I'd check happycow to see what's handy for you. If you're passing through Tirana to go to a more remote part of Albania, it might be a good idea to pick up some supplies before you leave.

There's one fully vegetarian restaurant as far as I know, Veggies. It's expensive for Albania, and the menu is a pretty diverse mix of foods from different cuisines (but not Albanian) and uses lots of 'superfood' type things. It's obvious which things are vegan, and the food is good and portions are a decent size. When I've been - at normal evening meal times - the vibe has been strange, with no other diners, and the waiter/chef has nothing to do and nowhere to hide while you're eating, so it kind of feels like you're being watched.

I have also eaten at Çoko, where they know what vegan is and the falafel 'burger' (it's really a pita) is alright and comes with lots of toppings. They also have fancy juice, outdoor seating, and it's on a lively street. There's no point in me including the photos because it was dark and you can't make anything out. Portions were substantive enough that I had leftovers.

Oda is a traditional Albania restaurant with absolutely delicious veggie options. I tried some of everything vegan, basically, which are all the traditional Albanian things I listed earlier.

Shkodër

With mostly Tirana and the Riviera to compare to, Shkoder is seriously cheap to eat out. I was there for a week.

My first meal was avocado toast at Stolia. Despite having communicated very effictively with the waiter, I thought, it came with cheese on that was not mentioned anywhere. I picked it off and got on with my life. I think this cafe is a bit fancy, but it was a really nice space.

At Shega e Egar they knew what vegan is and were able to suggest or adapt dishes for me. One one visit I had a vegetable ciabatta and fresh juice. Another time I had a substantive smoothie. It's also a really nice space, with outside seat, and upstairs too which has power and is a bit quieter.

The hostel I stayed in (The North Hub) partners with Manifatura, the pizza place next door. Hostel breakfast is there, with a couple of almost vegan things on the menu that they will adapt for you (and I took my own plant milk for the museli one day). Since it was handy, and there was a hostel discount, I had pizza there a couple of times too.

I ate Albanian food at Peja Grill, which had enough options that I went back twice. They also had good fresh juice, including lemon. Staff were friendly and I chilled out with my kindle there for a while.

Several people, from the walking tour guide to hostel workers, recommended Pasta e Vino. I'd definitely go back again as there are several vegan-when-cheese-removed pasta dishes on the menu, and the orecchiette with aubergine and cherry tomatoes I ate was incredible. It's one of those meals I still think about, a year later.

Sarandë

All year round

Lots of places in Sarandë are only open in the summer/tourist season, so check on that before you get your hopes up about going somewhere. I called this section 'all year round' but really I can only speak for the March to May portion of the off-season.

Ask anyone for "that cheap Albanian place that's really good with lots of veggie options?" and they'll say Te Beqoa (tuh-betcha). There are two branches, one in town by the park, and another to the south on Rruga Butrinti (the latter only opened this summer, and I don't know if it will close over the winter). The mostly vegan veggie selection is the biggest I found in one place in Sarandë and it's all super delicious, hearty and so cheap. I dream about the potato stew. They have other stews with aubergine, peppers, beans, all rich and tomatoey. They have stuffed aubergine and peppers, of course. They have a great fasule soup, and serve everything with chunky white bread. They also have a salad menu, including a pickle plate which I love. Most of the food is made in advanced and available for viewing in the counter. The staff encourage you to have a look and point at what you fancy. This also means service is very fast. Staff are friendly, and the wifi works well. The only drawback is they don't have tea or coffee, and only provide water in bottles (unless you make a small fuss about plastic, and then you might get a free glass of water which has been poured from a larger bottle so that's a bit of an improvement). If you're not cooking and on a budget, this is a safe bet for a place to eat dinner every day. It's also super popular with locals, so open in the off-season.

My favourite bakery in Sarandë is Furre Kosova, by the bus station / park. Their spinach byrek are the best, and they have a great bread selection, including bread rolls that are just like my all-time favourite Bosnian somun. The lady who works there became a regular friendly face, as I'd stop there whenever I was in town.

Another place in town that's open in the off-season is Bulla's Corner. This is just fast food, but they have a no-meat souvlaki on the menu for 150 lek, and will happily omit cheese and tzatziki and add ketchup instead. It's just fries and salad, but the bread is nice. Not amazing, but a good fast option if you're starving and had enough byrek already this week.

I got a no-cheese pizza from Piceri Alfa one time. I thought they'd be good cos they have a big pizza oven. It was 1000 lek and very mediocre. Don't bother. A veggie pizza should be 300-600lek.

Limani is a popular and spacious restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating sticking out on the water in the center of town. You can't miss it. It's slightly on the pricier side, but it's one of the only places that takes card payments. The service is very good, and the food is really good too. I've tried pizzas, salad, freddo espresso and fresh orange juice there, and had bruschetta for breakfast once (I ate that before remembering to take a photo). It's pretty popular with expats and foreign tourists, so you'll here a lot of English spoken if you hang out there for a while. There's loads of space so I didn't feel intrusive working on my laptop, the wifi is good, and you can sit right by the water.

Summer / tourist season

Things were slower to open up than usual this year because of the pandemic. On the other hand, if not for the pandemic I wouldn't have been stuck in Sarandë and wouldn't have got to try any of these places at all.

Salad Farm is out of town on Rruga Butrinti, which is inconvenient for lots of people but conveniently for me I lived across the road. It's 'traditional Californian' food, and run by real Californians. They grow and pickle a lot of the produce themselves, or aim to, and also use recyclable materials and minimise waste as much as possible. Their officially vegan dishes are a falafel salad, or falafel and hummus wrap, but in fact almost everything on the menu can be veganised. In the case of most of the salads this just means removing the meat and/or cheese because the bulk of the salad and dressings are vegan already. These salads are enormous and have lots of interesting things like curried wheat or noodles or fruit or avocado or beans.. so veganising them isn't a huge loss at all. The wraps are with a fresh homemade flatbread. The lemonade is fresh too, and bottomless in true American style. Almost all of the smoothies can be veganised, as they have coconut milk and soy milk on hand. You can also get a pint of coldpress coffee if you need wiring up for the day! My favourite thing of all is the roast cauliflower; it isn't vegan by default, as they use egg to stick the breading on - but just ask, and they can change this out for whatever other tasty liquids are on hand, in my case a mix of fava water and coconut milk. It's super delicious. Salad Farm is also a nice place to work, indoors or outdoors, and has a friendly local stray dog called Banksy. Vegan desserts coming soon? Stay tuned.

Almost across from Salad Farm is Bake'n'Grill. Not the most appealing name from a vegan perspective, but it was in the base of my building so when they opened late into the summer I thought I should try eating local. Their daily specials menu has baked vegetables on it, but they only do one of the things on the list per day and it wasn't baked vegetables when I dropped by. Instead, they offered to make that tomorrow's daily special just for me. So I ate a really nice lightly spicy penne arrabbiata, some salad and chips, and they brought a plate of fresh fruit as a complimentary dessert. The next day I returned for the baked vegetables - stuffed aubergine and peppers of course - which were delicious. And they gave me fruit again too. Their fresh orange juice is expensive but a big glassful. So there isn't a ton of options here, but the staff are very nice. I wouldn't go out of your way to visit, but if it's in the vicinity you could do worse.

Pizza Roel is mostly appealing because the outdoor seating is on the sea-side of the road, with lovely views across the bay. Their pizza is alright too. They have two veggie options which are, let's be honest, basically the same, with the usual selection of grilled vegetables (it says 'pumpkin', by the way, which is a common mistranslation of courgette/zucchini, before you get your hopes up about pumpkin on pizza..). Their freddo espresso is really good too, as are their prices.

I went for a nice dinner with a group of expats at Haxhi. The menu was set for the large group, but I checked beforehand there would be plenty of vegan-friendly things available, and sure enough I was easily stuffed up on tasty food. They even included a traditional dessert, hashure, made from farro (wheat) and walnuts. It's vegan! I ate a bunch before I realised it had walnuts in, and suffered through the resulting headache later that evening, alas. I'm not sure what the regular menu looks like at Haxhi - it had caught my eye becuase of it's nice decor previously, but does appear to be fish-focussed - but the family who run it speak good English so probably you'd figure something out.

You can get lemon sorbet at Kayak, in town.

Përmet

Lots of nice traditional food options in Pëmet, but I was only there for two nights. I ate wild cabbage, mountain herbs soup, fried potatoes and stuffed aubergine at Trifilia, and dolma, fasule and wild herb byrek at Antigonea. Both great options.

Along the Albanian Riviera

The best place I ate on my Riviera roadtrip was the homemade ravioli at Guesthouse Alberti in Llogora National Park. They have a spinach one as well as tomato and rukola and it was sooo good. They also have a variety of other pasta dishes, as well as salads and fried potatoes.

I ate a bizarrely good pizza on the beach in Borsh, at Ciao Borsh. There's probably nothing else worth mentioning, either to try or to avoid. You can check /eats for May and look for restaurant names in brackets if you really want to know everything.

Gjirokastër

I only spent an afternoon in Gjirokastër, but it gets its own section because my lunch there was so good. At Taverna Tradiçionale, a mostly vegetarian(!) restaurant who understand vegan. I arrived in time for their stuffed aubergine and peppers to be fresh from the oven, piping hot. The spinach byrek they had just made was with feta, but they managed to conjure some cheese-free up later and it was on the house. I'd also heard a rumour (aka read on happycow) that they had vegetarian kofte (meatballs) so they made that for me too! It was basically herby doughballs, but still exciting. And they brought fruit sprinkled with cinnamon as a free dessert.

A vegetarian specialty of Gjirokastër I'd have loved to try is qifqi - rice balls - but unfortunately these are bound with egg.

🏷 shkoder permet gjirokaster tirana sarande albania vegan food travel

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Week in review: 27 July - 2 August

🏷 sloph albania uk covid19 coronavirus crochet ods #cooplife week in review vegan food life travel

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