Oda Restaurant, Tirana 01-2020

It's nice and reassuring when a place you've read about online is also recommended by the Airbnb host and walking tour guide separately. After the very informative and quite tragic history of Albania's communist dictatorship, it was a pleasant change to walk past the many smiling faces of restaurant staff along Rruga Luigj Gurakuqi enticing us to sample the grilled meats on offer. Indeed if we were staying in that area or had a spare meal, I would definitely have gone there.

It was surprising to find Oda so empty during lunchtime. Maybe because it's a tiny bit difficult to find as the entrance is off the main road. Or maybe people seek it out but end up in the meat places instead.

- Fergese (cottage cheese, peppers) 360 lek - cottage cheese with delicious colourful peppers. Simple and eaten beautifully with the bread that resembled more of a scone or cake with nice crust;
- Lamb cooked in wooden stove (300g) 700 lek - very soft meat and strong flavour;
- Village chicken cooked in wooden stove 1500 lek - a whole chicken which was a bit chewy but not dry at all. Probably because it's been running around making full use of its life. It had a delicious natural flavour.

There's plenty of other dishes I wanted to try - stuffed eggplant, head of lamb, maybe even lamb innards - but those will have to wait until next time. Although I'd have to get through the street restaurants first I think.

Mullixhiu, Tirana 01-2020

I can't remember how to pronounce the name of this place. But it's well rated everywhere you read and our Airbnb host recommended it also. It's also in the park in south Tirana making the atmosphere around. In fact in this January winter, it was actually sunny and warm enough to sit outside - although after a while as the sun set, it seemed a less bright idea. Nonetheless modern Albanian food (although probably a very very heavy Italian influence) was appealing to try.

It's a little more expensive than other places, obviously for the quality and the fresh pasta being ground and made continuously. You can also buy their pasta (and also some bakery items) to take home to cook for yourself - incredibly their fresh pasta is actually cheaper than pasta from a supermarket. Who knew?

Boze was a corn drink, but sweet with mild corn flavour. It was really excellent. Some delicious warm bread with outstanding crust was served to eat with quality grassy olive oil, and a little dish of warm pumpkin soup.

- Petka with duck & porcini 750 lek - flat pasta with strong duck strands and mushroom flavour;
- Jufka with wild berry 700 leg - thin fettuccine type but unfortunately the pieces were all broken up. It had a milder flavour overall;
- Goat brain with pickled cabbage 550 lek - deepfried in flour but overall a bit indistinct, not like the characteristic flavour and texture of lamb brains that I'm used to. Plum sauce was sweet and strong and underneath lay marinated lettuce;
- Grilled goose 1200 lek - soft tender meat and delicious. It was quite similar to duck if I'm honest, but a little stronger in flavour.

A free dessert finished, much like the bread and soup started. Although by this time my company was cold and really wanted to leave, so it wasn't so enjoyable.

The service was always friendly and attentive. No issues there.

There were so many other dishes I wanted to try, such as baby goat pie, beef cheek, quail and more. However the fresh pasta was actually a bit disappointing, not very al dente and also weak to the point of breaking. Maybe next time I'll stick to the meats... and I'd allow more time to enjoy the park too.

Dr. Falafel, Ohrid 01-2020

I was really surprised to find a tiny falafel joint is the TA #1 in Ohrid. Considering the lake and therefore seafood, as well as the town is probably visited by less budget-conscious tourists made it unusual. Even still the restaurants aren't that expensive, so why is this takeaway place so high?

A lady and her child sat inside waiting for the diners to come - it was a bit early at 5.45pm. But for 170 den, a serve of hummus & falafel (bread 100g, falafel 6x 15g, tahini 15g, salad, chickpeas 100g) was served. The 4 of us shared 2 of these and ordered another 10 falafels to share.

They were good cheap small falafels, a bit salty alone but good with the salad and bread. The tahini was excellent and thick. Salads are quite simple but pickled cucumber is nice. However the bread is served cold and not very soft, which is the only let down.

It's a good change from typical Balkan food and the price is great, although I'd had much better at Pilpel in London and also a random place in Amman. Not essential to try.

Restaurant Sveta Sophia, Ohrid 01-2020

January was a beautiful time to be in Ohrid - cool temperatures however we were blessed with sunshine and perfect weather to wander around the cobblestoned town. After watching a marvellous sunset from the Church of Saints Clement & Pantelemon, it was time to settle for dinner. Unfortunately a lot of restaurants are closed during this quiet period, including Kaj Kanevce which was the one I wanted to try most in Ohrid. Next to it is Kaneo, which I had also read a lot about, however the prices are significantly higher and our host didn't rate it. Since it was a bit late and we were feeling a little lazy, we ended up at this restaurant right outside Saint Sophia church.

It had been recommended by our host and additionally the place was actually quite busy, much more than any other restaurant we had walked past.

A good local wine was served by the glass at 180 den for 0.2L. Bargain.

- Eggplant with seeds & mayonnaise;
- Eel in a pan 660 den for 300g - baked and served in a claydish with soft thick cuts and charred flesh. Excellent;
- Fried carp 420 den for 300g - like a soft schnitzel with simple flavour and ok firm flesh. Simple garnishes. It must be price per kg for the plate (as it can't be 300g fish);
- Ohrid cake - burnt hard caramel with walnuts, soft cake, chocolate coat.

A good meal and I did enjoy the eel from Ohrid Lake. It does remind me of the Butrint Lake eel I enjoyed in Albania not so long ago (https://eatlikeushi.posthaven.com/the-mussel-house-ksamil-09-2019).

Leonardo Pizza, Ohrid 01-2020

After plenty of Balkans cuisine it was time to have something a little different. Ohrid has a lot of pizza places for whatever reason and everyone from our transfer driver (Cosa Nostra) to our apartment host (Via Sacra) to a lady on the street (Leonardo) had their recommendation.

We tried Via Sacra first but unfortunately they were closed (well it looked open but the door wouldn't) and so wandered down the cobbled streets to Leonardo.

- Lasagna boloneze (meat sauce, pasta) 250 den - strong crusty cheese, meat sauce, and soft sheets served in an oven dish. Really excellent and would make Garfield proud;
- Pizza Leonardo (tomato sauce, yellow cheese, ham, mushrooms, hot sausage, sour cream, olives, hot peppers) 290 den - a little unusual in that the crust had sesame seeds. The ingredients were ok and as expected. Passata was served additionally which seemed a bit odd;
- Macedonian salad (roasted peppers, tomato, onion) 120 den - fine.

A standard pizza and salad held up by an excellent lasagna. I would come back here for the lasagna alone, but otherwise would try a different pizzeria next time.

Hotel Dva Bisera, Ohrid 01-2020

After the morning seeing the Bay of Bones museum and then the peacocks at St. Naum Monastery, it was time for lunch and enjoying the winter sun. I had Ribar on my list, but our driver called and said they were closed. There was also Rritja e Koranit found from Google maps, but it was on the other side of St. Naum to our return to Ohrid.

Our driver took us here. The hotel part and the higher end decor inside did make me wonder. He did choose the place as it had a terrace across the lake, which meant braving the smoking section. But as the sun gleamed through, it was worth the compromise.

Ohrid bread came out first which was a crispy pretzel with sesame seeds. Really nice and went well with the trout soup.

- Trout soup (trout, carrot, lemon, flour, spices, pepper, oil, salt, parsley) 160 den - thick and delicious with chunks of fish flesh and flavoured with the vegetables and butter. Really really good;
- Ohrid trout style (trout, peppers, tomato, onion, oil, salt, paprika, lemon, potatoes, broccoli, parsley) 1580 den/kg - trout came served whole but already despined. It was expertly grilled until the flesh was firm but not overcooked and not burnt at all. It had good flavour cooked with onion and yellow peppers inside until those additives were sweet. I can't remember how much we ordered, but I think about 500g (of the dish, not the fish alone);
- Fried belvica (belvica, salt, oil, potatoes, lemon, broccoli, tomato, flour) 1900 den/kg - fish seasoned and fried to a crisp skin. Flesh was very soft although not much flavour in itself. Again, not entirely sure how much we ordered but I think about 500g was the 4 fish and sides;
- Salad for 4.

It was a nice lunch even if the terrace sunshine meant smokers were near us. The food was good though and fish very well cooked.

Our driver did say that food was much cheaper on the Albania side of Lake Ohrid and often they are hired for a full day tour of the lake and so have lunch after crossing over. Trout fishing on the Macedonia side is regulated and hence the availability is less and the price higher. In Albania, it is lawless (so he said).

Hotel Tiffany, Prizren 01-2020

Because of the quiet season in January, the Prizren Free Walking tours were not running. However after a Facebook message, Erdis was happy to run the tour for 4 of us (https://www.facebook.com/FreeWalkingTourPrizren/). At the end of this, he asked what our budget was (I said €5pp - although probably could have been a lot less given the cost of living there) and he recommended lunch for us at Tiffany. I originally had Te Syla, Besimi Beska or Marashi on the list, but given there's little information generally for Prizren and Kosovo, I was happy to try a local recommendation. (Looking at TA now, Tiffany does come in at #2 so maybe it isn't so hidden after all. The other 3 places are 4, 3, 1 respectively).

I was a bit skeptical initially from the white table service, the unmarked door and the booking.com (high) rating noted. But hey, we were here and so be it.

Turkish bread was served initially piping hot and soft, with two cheese dips. The dips were a bit too strong in the liquified cheese form, similar to the dips from Le Snack. But the bread with grassy EVOO was a great start.

- Bean salad €1.5 x2 - big salad of fresh ingredients dressed with a little vinegar and oil;
- Xhyveq with chicken (tomatoes, onions, leeks, peppers, garlic, carrots & spices mixed & cooked in a wood oven) €7.9 - baked vegetables with tender chicken like a simple ratatouille;
- Elbasan with veal (special traditional cream with garlic, cooked in a wood oven) €7.9 - very tender veal in an earthy tangy yoghurt sauce;
- Mantia (fried mince meat & onions, wrapped with pastry & topped with yoghurt & garlic, baked in a wood oven) €7 - meat in a pastry like burek topped with yogurt. Incredibly delicious from the fried pastry to the meaty filling and the cleansing yoghurt for balace.

I really enjoyed the whole meal, in particular the mantia. It makes me wish we had stayed in Kosovo longer to try these dishes more. Given the similarities in culture (since the people are mostly ethnically Albanian), it reminded me of the food delights awaiting us in Tirana.

Gradska Kafeana, Skopje 01-2020

After several days of eating out in a row, we felt like eating in. Unfortunately noone could be bothered going to the supermarket and with the effort of buying ingredients including condiments and cooking, compared to the prices of restaurants in The Balkans it almost didn't seem worth the effort.

I wanted to wander around the Art Bridge at night with the lights over the statues, and so found a Macedonian restaurant along the way. It doesn't look like much from the outside and when seeing the red sign (before the yellow sign) it looks like the subterranean place is very closed. However pass the corridor toilets and into the restaurant, and you get to an open room with a large tree in it. I think that makes it count as technically outdoor and so people do smoke in there.

- Grilled vegetables 150 den - simple and delicious;
- Tavche gravche 100 den - standard. It's the 2nd time we'd had them and probably don't need to again;
- Grilled trout 800den/kg (290g) - salty crispy outside. Inside was a bit dry. Potatoes good but could've been crisper and charred;
- Risotto with mushrooms 150 den - loads of mushrooms in a stock that wasn't too strong. Not al dente, but a nice dish overall.

It wasn't the best meal we'd had and the risotto and grilled vegetables were probably the nicest of the night. We had intentionally tried to order a few different items to the mainly meats so far for the variety. Nonetheless still a hearty dinner and incredibly good value.

Old Bazaar Baklava, Skopje 01-2020

The Ottoman rule of Macedonia means Turkish influence is noted in the cuisine throughout. Surprisingly there weren't that many Turkish sweets shops around and I was fortunate to find this lady selling freshly made product. I have no idea what the name of this stall is, and it certainly doesn't come up on Google maps (to be fair most of the Old Bazaar doesn't) but at 300 denars/kg and 10 pieces of baklava costing around 200, it doesn't get much cheaper than this.

The baklava had a small amount of pistachio on top and a thicker layer of walnuts in the middle. Generally I do like the ones with pistachios in the middle too, but this is a cheaper alternative and still good. The syrup had just the right amount of sweetness and the pastry still had some crispness to it.

It lasted a good few days and then all gone...

Kaj Serdarot, Skopje 01-2020

After the relatively interesting (and long 3 hour) Free Walking tour, we ended up in front of the fortress. A leisurely stroll back down through the Old Bazaar took me past a baklava place, a lot of jewelry and ornamental stores, a fresco, and finally for lunch. I had two options in the Old Bazaar - Destan or Kaj Serdarot. I picked Serdarot for no particular reason, maybe because Serdarot had better Google ratings (acknowledging the limitations of that approach) and Destan has a few other branches to try if I really want to (including 2 much closer to the Airbnb).

It's a simple place and looks like a family one. The older male seems to be the host and waiter and the female seems to be the cook. Of course the food here is the kebab/kebap/cevapi simply grilled. Between the 4 of us, we ordered teleski (10 kebabs and sides), one sharska burger, a grilled cheese and bread. They all came out served together on a nice big platter.

The kebabs were a very smooth beef. Burger was actually a similar mince meat patty pressed flat but with cheese in between. The fries were very. He warned us the ajvar was spicy, but unfortunately it wasn't at all for us, however nonetheless very good and flavoursome with peppers. Grilled bread was very good topped with grated cheese. Grilled cheese was soft and salty.

A very good and cheap hearty meal. I was stunned they didn't have ayran - I can't imagine why especially for a grilled meat place. Ah well.