ALBANIA: Albanian Radio

The Accursed Mountains (aka The Albanian Alps) – Source: Horizon Guides

One again spun the globe on Radio Garden and got some interesting radio stations from Albania.

Radio DJ 98.2 – Based in Tirana, it’s well-DJ’d dance mix. Great for working out or working at your desk! No talking or ads as far as I can tell, just 24/7 dance music. It’s definitely on my favourites. Listen live here.

My Music 97.3 – A pop music channel that only plays Albanian artists – mainly in Albanian, but some songs are in English as well. A good spectrum of what’s popular – rap, pop, ballads, dance music, R&B. A few bumpers but not a lot of ads. Listen live here.

Radio Pendimi – I tuned in at about 2am Albanian time for some beautiful atmospheric Islamic music in Albanian. Turns out that this is a Sunni religious station partially sponsored by Saudi Arabia. That led me down the Wikipedia rabbit hole on Islam in Albania since the fall of communism – in the 30 years since religion has been allowed back into public life, Sunni and Sufi Islam and Christianity have returned in fits and starts, with most people identifying but unobservant. Both religions have had the support of NGOs and the faithful in other countries, and Albania is navigating a complex web of identities as a secular state but with religious freedom, a Muslim state in Europe, an EU aspirant, and receiving support from countries like Saudi Arabia. Listen live here.

Radio Lushnja 95.5 – Based in Lushnjë, a small city in the middle-south. Since I keep on logging on to radio at the equivalent of the middle of the night in Albania, I keep on getting the fun late night music. I ended up with something that sounded similar to klezmer, then a sweet folk song, then some latin beats in Albanian. Listen live here.

ALBANIA: Shqipëria – Notes from Albania

Shqipëria – Notes from Albania is a really good long-form documentary on Albania that is as much setting and silences as actual stories. It’s a series of short interviews with Albanians from all walks of life – club goers in Tirana, rural farmers, a former reality TV actor now running a B&B, the keeper of a religious shrine, a music executive, the working poor, activists, the prime minister, and one extremely rickety bridge. No narrator, just little glimpses into people’s lives (and stunning footage to boot).

ALBANIA: Three Albanian drinks

I’ve got three different non-alcoholic Albanian drinks to try today: boza, kompot, and mountain tea! The boza and kompot are from TurkishMart, which is one of the few Canadian stores that also carries imported products from Albania, while the mountain tea is from a local Mediterranean grocery store.

Boza – Got a jar of homemade boza, a non-alc drink made from fermented flour – usually wheat and corn. It’s drunk in not just Albania, but Turkey and Bulgaria as well. This was shipped by mail, so I’m not sure if it fermented more in the bottle, but there was that satisfying pop when I opened it. The boza is thick and frothy, a little fizzy, and sweet with a tangy bready aftertaste. This is delicious – I’ve never had anything like it! I’m adding a dash of ground cinnamon to the top, which is a common (and even tastier) way to serve it.

Sejega plum kompot – Kompot is drunk all across Eastern Europe, it’s preserved fruit with extra liquid (as opposed to a Western European compote, which is more concentrated). The Albanian name for kompot is “komposto” and this one has whole plums in it. The plums are sweet and tender from being stewed in the liquid, while the liquid itself is a bit more tart with a rich plummy flavour. Refreshing and summery!

Mountain tea – This herb is most commonly called “Greek mountain tea” here in Canada, but sideritis is drunk all through southern Europe and the Balkans. It’s generally wild-collected in Albania and sold in dried bunches of stalks and flowers. The scent of the herb is very similar to sage, and the tea tastes like a mid-point between sage, mint, and chamomile, but a bit earthier.

ALBANIA: The start and the end of Cold War

I’m really looking forward to learning more about Albania’s history – both the more ancient and the more recent. The Cold War is a good starting place – Albania was closed off to the point that comparisons with North Korea are common, and found itself pulled between the USSR, Yugoslavia, and China, eventually ending up divorced from all three in the end.

The below video is a look at the relationship between Yugoslavia and Albania during the start of the Cold War, up to Yugoslavia splitting from the Soviet sphere of influence, and severing its support for Albania. It also tees up why Albania then went for China in the Sino-Soviet split (there’s also a video with deeper explanation on the split itself, and History Matters’ take on Albania backing China.)

I’d suggest following with this poetic look from Rare Earth – it takes Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha‘s name carved into a mountain as a metaphor for memory and explores the decline and fall of communist Albania and how the modern state remembers its history.

ALBANIA: Double byreks

I really like that every country on the Mediterranean has some type of pastry-and-filling dish in the burek family – and they’re all slightly different. Israeli bourekas were filled with potato, and shaped based on kosher laws, while Algerian boreks were more like spring rolls with spiced meat. And now I get to try Albania’s version – byrek!

I stopped by Hasi Bakery, a Balkan bakery here in Ottawa and scored both a ready-to-eat slice of feta and spinach byrek, as well as a whole freshly prepared meat byrek – ready for the oven! It was good timing to get in early, since they’re closed for the rest of the month.

Albanian byrek is made either as small pies or in a large pan that can be cut into pieces. It’s made of layers of phyllo pastry with a filling – cheese or meat are the classics. I first tried huge slice of feta and spinach byrek that was warm and crispy and filling and made plenty of crumbs in the car. Later, I heated up the oven for the meat byrek.

The meat byrek went in at 350F for an hour and cooked up great. I love that it’s ready-to-bake – I get all the satisfaction and lovely smell without having to wrangle with phyllo myself! There’s a nice spicing to the meat, reminds me a bit of tourtière.

I am so full.

This month: ALBANIA

This month I’ll be learning more about my first Balkan country – Albania! So, what do I know already about Albania?

  • I know it was a communist country during the Cold War, and that it was notable for being the one European state to side with China during the Sino-Soviet split – that’s definitely something I’d like to learn more about.
  • I also know that Cold War-era relations were tense between Albania and Yugoslavia, that modern day Kosovo (which has now broken away from Serbia) is mainly Albanian and that this was a factor in the Balkan Wars of the 90s, though most of my knowledge of that time period is half-remembered news stories as a kid. I assume there must still be tensions between Albania and its neighbours – the shifting borders of that part of Europe over the past century has not been a recipe for stable friendships.
  • I know that Albania is a majority Muslim country, with a significant Christian minority, but that it isn’t particularly known for religious tension and it’s a largely secular country.
  • Mother Theresa was Albanian, though her birthplace is now in modern-day North Macedonia, and was in the Ottoman Empire when she was born – well before today’s borders.
  • I don’t know too much about the food yet, but it seems to be a blend between Mediterranean and Balkan – the pastry situation looks particularly tasty. I think there’s an Albanian bakery somewhere here in Ottawa that I’m going to check out.