Recently, I made the cross-country trek from America to Albania. If you're not familiar, it's a wonderful, ridiculously gorgeous getaway destination bordering Italy and Greece. Until the late '80s, the country remained under communist control, but today, Albania's extraordinary history makes for proud natives, unique culture, and amazing, healthy foods.
Unlike the states, you won't find any use of additives or genetically modified ingredients — matter of fact, most fruits, veggies, meat, and dairy products are locally sourced. Yum! While driving through the mountainous roads, you can see that cattle and poultry are free to roam as they please, which as a New Yorker, was a shock to me.
Large family meals are important Albanian people, so much so that the meals I had often lasted over three hours at a time. But I didn't complain – being encouraged to eat slowly and savor the taste of everything was a welcomed adjustment to the fast-food culture folks living in America find normal. The best part, though, was how refreshed I felt by ridding my diet of processed foods and added sugar.
What exactly did I enjoy eating the most during my two-week stay? Keep scrolling for my top food picks along with what I learned about their health benefits.
Also known as a "fig" in English, believe me, this fruit is so much better when it’s not dried or sweetened. Fresh fik is loaded with potassium, iron, and several antioxidants (Vitamins A, E, and K to be exact). Next time you're either sore after a workout or need a little TLC in general, I suggest giving one of these a go — potassium does wonders for muscle repair and your skin will love the boost it gets from all the Vitamin A!
Himarë is a charming town along the coast of South Albania. Here, most fish — a crucial source of omega-3 fatty acids that support healthy body and brain function — is caught straight from the Adriatic or Ionian seas and cooked fresh. Seasoned with natural herbs and lemon, natives enjoy the untouched taste of nature. The shrimp is a must-try too, if you're a fan.
These tiny, grape-shaped fruits, also called “jujube” in English, are something I've never seen in the U.S. Grown in the mountains on small shrubs, each berry packs a powerful and nutritious punch of flavor similar to an apple mixed with a cherry. Locals told me they're used to strengthen bones and are loaded with Vitamin C, which helps boost immunity.
Persimmons, called "hurmë" in Albanian culture, are fiber-rich and have the texture similar to a ripe pear. I heard they're often served after meals as a "dessert" to help curb sweet cravings.
5. Stuffed Peppers with Rice
Stuffed peppers are a very simple yet traditional dish in Albania, as it's an easy way to fill up fast without feating on carbs. They can be made with as little as three ingredients — red pepper, brown rice, olive oil — or you can take a more savory approach by adding feta cheese, meat, and spices. Regardless, this was definitely one of my favorite dishes during my visit!
Dairy is a key staple in Albania, and most of it comes from sheep's milk, including a tasty yogurt called "kos." I was in doubt at first, but after trying it, I must say the stuff's amazing! Not only does sheep's milk contain more Vitamin A, B12, folic acid, and calcium than cow's milk, it also has double the protein. A win-win situation, if you ask me.
I know what you're thinking, "We eat okra here in the states!" While true, in Albania, it's treated more as a delicacy than just another vegetable. I ate it in stews and sautéed in olive oil as a side, both of which are dishes I highly recommend since okra is really good for you. High in folic acid, fiber, and vitamins yet low in calories, we could all benefit from a diet filled with Albania's greenest gem.
Have you taken a trip to Albania or any of its neighboring countries? Do you have any healthy food suggestions? If so, sound off in the comments below!