Kosovar Food

There's really nothing quite like flija.  We racked our brains trying to find an apt comparison for the dish, which is -without a doubt- the most Kosovar food.  It comes from traditional Albanian cuisine, but has taken on an iconic status in the mountains of Kosovo and an almost mythic one in the land down below.  Merlin already described the process, which includes 5 hours of batter ladling next to an open flame.  The big pie dish never goes over the heat itself.  Instead, a saç (a metal cover) is heated over the woodfire and then placed atop the flija, cooking it from above.  It is fitting that this incomparably hospitable country would name a dish that takes so much time, energy and attention as their most prized.  When our homestay mother made it for us, neighbors came by to visit.
A few diamond cuts of flija circle this platter of food at Besimi Beska family restaurant in Prizren.  If you look closely, you can see that from the side, it sort of resembles potato au gratin (not that there is potato or cheese in flija).  This wasn't the real deal - they simply didn't have a mountain setting, a fire out back or a quarter of a day's attention - but it was still very tasty.  Besimi Beska was a very popular, very good restaurant.  Its inclusion of flija at all showed their worth.  This is all very quintessentially Kosovar - the french fires, the meat, the kebabs, the server who stops to pose for a picture.  The presentation of food in Kosovo was always a curated pile of a hundred different things.  A trout would be served as the valley in a mountain range of rice, roasted veggies, french fires, cabbage salad. Even at our homestay, the mixed salad platter was arranged like an advertisement for one of those veggie shaving, shaping, curling tool sets.
Sometimes you search out authentic food experiences and sometimes they are handed to you.  In the case of boza (which is technically a drink, but should qualify as a food - I'll get to that), the taste was part of an impromptu sight-seeing tour.  Faik, the man from the filigree workshop in Prizren, had invited us for coffee the following morning.  That turned into over an hour of walking around, a wonderful insider's look at the city.  At the end of the route, he brought us to this hole in the wall for a drink.  "This is special to here, no other place has this."  That's not exactly true, but it doesn't matter.  Boza is a fermented drink made of corn, wheat flour, sugar and water.  The young man who ran the family shop conceded that boza does exist also exist in Turkey, but there is is a winter thing - served warm with cinnamon and chickpeas.  He also told us that it is great for blood pressure and weight gain.  Just what I like to here after I've ordered a refill.  There are over 1,000 calories in a liter of boza. Tart, starchy, sweet, thick, it is half smoothie, half protein shake.  It is a meal and a unique delicacy. 
Corn can be consumed in a multitude of ways in Kosovo.  Boza, grilled corn stands, popcorn vendor, leqenik (corn bread, which we also were lucky to have with our Rugova family).  The other frontrunner for most popular vegetable in Kosovo is pepper, spec.  If this were the winter, we probably would have encountered it stuffed, as sarma.  Autumn is ajvar season, and the red pepper paste would have been on the top of everyone's mind.  But in summer, when the peppers are out in the markets nice and fresh, roasting them whole is the Kosovar way.  They are often placed in a bowl of warm cream as a soup, but usually they just hold their own.  On our walk home from the Stone Castle winery in Rahovec, a group of men invited us over to their furniture store for some fresh well water and apricots.  "See a traditional Kosovar lunch!" they laughed and pointed in at their lunch room, where one man still munched away.  On a round tray was the remnants of scrambled eggs, cheese, cabbage salad and a mound of roast peppers.
The cheese (djathë) of Kosovo was varied and delicious.  At even a simple hotel breakfast, we would be given a different cheese each morning.  A cheese and pepper spread may be served before a meal; you better believe some is gonna show up in a salad.  All of the cheese was new, young, not cured or fussed with that much.  Everpresent.  Above, a man sells his rounds on the sidewalk.  I thought that it was dough until the stench hit my nose and gave the product's identity away.  Sitting alongside is a scale.  When we inquired about it with the man standing outside the hotel next door, he ran into the kitchen and procured a bite.  We think it was sheep - and it tasted like a softer parmigiano.  As we were waiting for the bus just yesterday, a man opened his wooden barrel at the station and began to divvy out portions into cheese cloth. 
Running into food artisans is always a great feeling.  Like when you walk by bakery after bakery after bakery and then all of a sudden spot a bakery unlike the rest.  That was the case in Rahovec when we happened upon this shop.  Most of the bread that had appeared in baskets and at markets was pretty generic (but fresh).  However, at every qebaptore in Kosovo, the most widespread and popular type of eatery, these round breads are set out on the grill alongside the meat that goes into them.  It is common to see women and men carrying plastic bags absolutely stuffed with these pita like rounds.  We bought two, piping hot to the touch, and found them to be much different than pitas.  They are less full of air inside, not at all dried out,  chewy.  Once they cool down, they are downright elastic (which makes watching children gnaw away at them really entertaining).
We filled our bread with some cheese from across the street, but this is what usually gets stashed in.  A shoulder to shoulder line-up of minced meat sausages.  Kofta or  'burger fingers' as I've come to call them.  This is Turkish influence at its most basic and popular.  We'd see people eating kofta at 10am, at lunch, any time they were buying food out.  'Hamburgers' were on every menu.  Lamb and beef are both prevalent in Kosovar food, in fast food and slow food.  There are countless roasts and tavas, clay pot meals, made with veal and lamb.  There are also countless grills to be had.  Meat wasn't nearly inescapable.  Trout from the lakes and rivers of Kosovo are widely available, as well as the larger fish from the nearby Albanian coast. 
And there is always, always pizza.  The line between cafe and restaurant is tough to distinguish in Kosovo.  People usually just get soft drinks and coffee. So, it's hard to know if asking for a menu will be fruitless or not.  It never is.  There is always salad and pizza - and if that establishment doesn't have a kitchen, they get it from someone else down the street.  The pizza in Kosovo is totally passable across the board.  Wood-stoves are common and the customer is given a choice between small and medium.  It may not be seen as the most traditional Kosovar food, but new countries are creating new traditions every day, right?  I would venture to say that in a few years, the machiatos and pizzas of Kosovo will be more embraced as a part of their identity.  They already approach both with good taste and pride. So, why not?
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