I have now been living in Albania for almost a month filming with Pioneer Media, and have written a blog on Albanian cuisine, and some general tourist stuff, but you cannot talk about spending anything, eating, or drinking in Albania without bringing up the big strong elephant in the room – the Raki of Albania.
Rakia is a HUGE deal in the whole of the Balkans. As drinks go, I do not think I have ever encountered a country where the national drink is not just a national drink but an obsession. I once joked to my Serbian friend about this and he confirmed with a laugh that when his grandfather passed away the first conversation was indeed about how to get enough Rakia for the funeral.
Rakia or Rakija (/ˈrɑːkiə, ˈræ-, rəˈkiːə/) is the collective name for the fruit brandy that is made across the region, that in my experience at least tends to be made at home by one member of the extended family, and can be made with almost any fruit, and tends to be strong as hell! 50-60-70%? It is hard to ask when you are being served your Raki in a water bottle.
So, how do you drink Albanian Raki? And indeed, when should you drink your Raki/Rakia?
We’ve encountered Raki on every trip out we’ve taken with our Albanian friends, and much as I found in Serbia, you can start drinking Rakia from morning time.
I remember spending a New Year’s Eve in Belgrade and upon waking up for breakfast everyone (including the teens) had a breakfast of Rakia. Albania is the same, they REALLY believe in the hair of the dog. In fact, you will even see old men sipping a Raki with coffee at breakfast time.
Indeed, no matter what time of the day it is (and Albanians do drink Raki all day long), it is supposed to be sipped, not necked (easy to spot the foreigner on this one), and like Bai Jiu in China (a whole other story), you do not mix Albanian Raki, you drink it straight.
Now! One thing before carrying on, Turkish Rakia is not Rakia if you have not tried Raki/Rakia. Turkish Rakia is basically Ouzo or Sambuca. Albanian Raki is from the Balkan family.
There are a lot of commercial Raki that are popular. Indeed, every bar, restaurant, or even rest stop serves the stuff for as little as 40 cents a glass. But the best stuff is homemade and throughout the country genuinely has its own unique flavor. On one of our sojourns to the Albanian countryside we stopped at a very North Koreanesque town, and duly stopped for a drink in one bar of a very one-horse town. Apparently and according to our local friends it was the best in the country, but at that point, at least for us it was like serving strawberries to a pig.
So my advice, obviously drink responsibly as is the Street Food Guys way, but more importantly avoid mixing it with wine, if you don’t want hangover from hell!