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Meals, Customs and Special Occasions in Albania

Meals and Customs

Again a distinction must be drawn between the humble farmers and mountain-dwelling herders and the urban upper classes. For the mountaineer, flat corn bread is his staple, and since famine and starvation are not new, a deep appreciation of the importance of bread is expressed by the host, who always breaks the bread first and then shares it with all at his table; then, and only then, are any other available foods placed on the table.

In other areas, it is customary to bring all foods to the table, where they are shared by all the diners usually after appetizers (meze) with Raki or Raki Manash have been served. Three meals a day, similar to most western and European styles, are common except, again, to the humbler farmer or mountaineer to whom each meal will likely be the same — and gratefully received: kos and corn bread.

The late afternoon tea or coffee break is called sille and may include sweet pastries, nuts, and fresh local fruits.

Special Occasions

Culturally, the Albanians are said to be a “leftover of the Turkish Empire,” with approximately 70 percent practicing Islam, eschewing pork and pork products, but relaxing the usual prohibitions against alcohol. In fact, alcoholic beverages are consumed freely.

Albanians are also strongly influenced by the heritage of two main ancestral tribes: the reserved but warlike Ghegs from the north, and the lighthearted, extroverted Tosks from the south.

Among both upper and lower classes through-out Albania, preparation of special occasion fare almost always results in an expansion in the quantity rather than the variety of foods. For the rural poor it may mean their first taste of meat in a very long time (they are vegetarian by necessity, not necessarily by desire), while for others the special occasion may simply be a feast of overabundance, as they eat their way through a formidable list of appetizers and repeated drinks of Raid, and have to make an effort to continue through the sumptuous and often exotic main dishes to follow.

Since Albania is a land not only of male dominance by custom, but male dominance by population, men are served first and treated with great deference and respect; this is not a custom reserved just for special occasions.

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