albania, macedonia, bulgaria
We are looking for authentic, excellent, possibly regional cuisine at a reasonable price.
We're budget travelers, but we have more cash than backpackers. We need to reach everyplace by public transport, as we won't be driving. We're not interested in tourist restaurants (don't care about an English menu), trendy places (unless they're totally amazing and they merit the extra money) or fusion food. Lamb, goat, mezedes, seafood (nothing fancy), all good... Serious Chowhound food, Balkan-style. We've been to the general area before, but only to Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Greece.
Please share your recommendations for the following places:
1. Saranda (Albania), also around Butrint and the seaside.
2. Berati (Albania), and possibly Gjirokaster where we change buses
3. Ohrid (Macedonia), maybe also Sveti Naum
4. Skopje (Macedonia)
5. Sofia (Bulgaria)
6. Koprivshtitsa (Bulgaria)
Note: we also have a post on the Greece/Turkey board for that leg of the trip. Please check if you can help.
Alas, my specific recommendations are 25 years old - I studied the Macedonian (the language) in Ohrid and Skopje on a summer college program. I remember a biggish place in Ohrid on the main square (near the lake) that did a lovely (and cheap) mixed-meat grill with a shopska salata (tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers), but I have no idea if it's still there, or if the food is still as simple and good.
But I can definitely recommend some must-try dishes:
Burek - Baked pastry (sometimes flaky, sometimes a yeast dough) stuffed with cheese, meat, or vegetables. (Burek is near relative of Turkish borek, and a somewhat more distant relative of Greek spanakopita.) There are reputedly fruit versions, but I never had any. Anyway, there were bakeries that would sell slices of burek through a window to passers-by - a tasty and inexpensive snack or lunch.
Kashkaval cheese - Hard, yellowish sheep cheese. Very tasty with tomatoes and onions. Back in my day, hotels served this cheese with rolls and coffee for breakfast - perhaps they still do.
Ajvar - Red pepper relish. Lovely stuff to accompany grilled meat. I like the hot version, but it's not really that spicy.
Boza - Lightly fermented beverage made from grain or corn. It looks "milky", and it's an acquired taste (but I loved it from my first sip). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boza .
I don't remember any desserts, other than watermelon and ice cream (I was there in July/August), but I'm sure you'll encounter many sweet pastries.
Have a great trip, and please blow a kiss to Lake Ohrid for me!
Please , don't delete ths, it might make sense.. I was in Sofia about 2 years ago. I asked at the hotel, where I could see "Monster in law" with Jane Fonda.(I hope my food choices are better than my movie choices). I was told to go to a new multiplex in a new nearby suburb by taxi. I was really glad I went. After entering the building and going up an escalator, there was a huge buffet restaurant and beyond it was a formal dining restaurant. I can't remember ever seeing anything like this. It was mid afternoon and I had just had lunch. The theater was also amazing, as each seat had 2 armrests, so you didn't have to fight for control of an armrest with the person next to you. Also, people could walk to their seats without everyone having to get up; the aisle was so wide.
One restaurant that I enjoyed probably won't fit your criteria, but I think it's worth a mention. It was on the (or a) main shopping street; the street with the Sheraton Hotel. There was a large deck on the sidewalk. The menu (yes it was in english, but a Bulgarian menu is also available??). It had pictures of all the choices; probably 50 different salads with the size of the portions in grams and picture of the food; very reasonably priced. There was a restaurant across the street from this one, that was at least as good.
I am going to be in Sofia in the begining of July and I'll take notes. Prior to Sofia I am going to Tirana and Skopje. Haven't been to Skopje before. I was to Tirana 2 years ago, also. One thing that I remember is having a piece of walnut cake that was fantastic in a bakery with tables. As I left, the waiter said "please come back and visit us again". I thought; when was the last time someone said that ina restaurant? Maybe, where you are, but not here in Buesos Aires. I am planning to have another piece of walnut cake on July 1st!
This is 2 years late, but for future searchers I wanted to share my Albania recommendations. Well, recommendation. One of the greatest unwild beaches in Albania is Drymades, which is a 30 minute walk (clearly marked fork in the road) from Dhermi, which is a more popular resort town. By "more popular" I mean maybe 3 hotels max, 1 club, and a scattering of little guesthouses on the way down to the beach. About 50 yards from the Drymades beach there's a restaurant on the right with a lovely deck. I'm pretty sure it was new when I visited this summer. It's not quite fine dining but there are cloth napkins, etc, and delicious and fresh Mediterranean food. Absolutely unremarkable in any country but Albania, where the food leaves a LOT to be desired.