Trahana (cracked wheat) is another traditional Albanian recipe, and was the staple diet of Albanians during the 50 years of communist dictatorship. Made of young wheat from mountainous areas and sour milk, the preparation of trahana is an art in itself. Dried up in the sun, trahana is locally prepared. Even today, it is frequently eaten by many Albanian families as a healthy breakfast.
Kiço Noti is the director of the major trahana factory in Gjirokastra in southern Albania, where the word “Tradicionale” (Traditional) is prominent on all the packaging. Noti explains that trahana is deemed authentic when it is prepared using gruri ‘agimi’ - the top quality wheat only found at Cajupi Mountain in Gjirokastra - and sour milk from sheep. He admits that this is a very costly but worthwhile process, which helps to maintain quality and keep clients happy. Noti’s factory has been producing trahana, sugar powder and rice flour for over 20 years, and will soon be adding pasta to the production list. He, too, suffers from the fact that very few traditional recipes still exist. “People are compromising even with the quality of olive oil and honey for which Albania has always been famous. This is all due to the thirst for instant wealth,” he says.
It is a fact that remote areas tend to better preserve what is traditional. The further you go into the countryside, the more traditional the food gets. At the same time, food tastes different in different areas. For example, the lamb of Përmet, loved for its local cuisine, wine and raki, tastes different from that of Vlora where the meet is more salty due to the proximity of the sea.
However, Noti fears that most Albanians are not using the gifts from Mother Nature to their advantage: “I once went to one of the best-known restaurants of Berat and was offered a choice of Italian dishes. It is a pity. After all, Berat is known for its traditional meat skewers.”
Cooking traditional food requires skill, work, patience and time. Evgjeni Harizi, author of the 1978 Albanian cookery book “How to Cook”, explains that “everything traditional seems to have disappeared: "Most of the recipes in my book have been transformed. Still, the older generations try to stick to the old cooking principles.”
Agron Xheko, owner of Xheko Imperial, one of the most state-of-the-art hotels in Tirana, explains that a strange phenomenon is occurring: “Albanians are seeking foreign dishes and the foreigners looking for Albanian dishes.”
Luckily, it seems some Albanian chefs have made it their mission to preserve the traditional recipes, too.