Thursday, June 13, 2013

Hotel Restorant Mangalemi - Berat, Albania

Hotel Restorant Mangalemi is located in the historic Mangalem quarter of Berat below the castle. It is housed in a 270 year old building and includes a hotel with 15 rooms (the first hotel to open in Berat after the fall of communism in 1991) and a restaurant that cooks in a traditional Albanian style, which has a strong Turkish influence. We sat upstairs in the open air with a view of the surrounding area below. The meal we had there was one of our best in the Balkans. 
We were hungry and thirsty, having completed a long and frustrating drive from Ohrid, Macedonia which started about 7:15 a.m. (without breakfast) until we arrived at 12:30 p.m. (without lunch), followed by a three hour tour of the castle and surrounding area. I got some non-carbonated grape juice and carbonated lemon soda and Judy some non-carbonated cherry juice. All of the drinks were very nice. 
Judy got some grilled hard cheese, having previously enjoyed some soft, salty, grilled cheese in Ohrid the night before. This cheese did not compare favorably and went largely uneaten. The texture was less pleasing, substantially harder, and much more bland. 
Judy got their red salad, with beets, carrots and red cabbage. It looked very red, but pretty basic. 
I got their rustic salad with tomato, cucumber, onion, hot peppers, what they translated as cottage cheese, corn and olives. The only thing that really stood out about this salad was the yellow peppers stuffed with cheese. It was a very nice combination of heat, crunch, smooth and salty. 
Judy got tave kosi, the national dish of Albania, which is lamb baked in unflavored yogurt, egg and rice.   It was very different and unusual. It looked like a combination of quiche and scrambled eggs in a clay dish. I had a few small tastes and the yogurt/egg mixture was pretty bland, almost a little sour. The texture was pleasing. I assume the lamb was good (it is tough to ruin lamb). 
tave kosi - lamb baked in yogurt and egg
The one dish that really caught my eye was kakorec, labeled as seasoned, skewered lamb intestines. I wanted to try it, but was concerned it would be horrible and I was hungry. So Judy suggested I get my main dish and this as a half dish, which was a good solution. It is also known as kokorec or kokoretsi and is a traditional dish in the Balkans and Anatolia. The intestines of suckling lambs are preferred and they are cleaned thoroughly. According to Wikipedia (kokoretsi), the "heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, fat and sweetbreads are removed from the lamb, washed and sliced"  into pieces about 1/4 to 3/4 of an inch long and "seasoned with salt, pepper, oregano and sometimes garlic." They are then "threaded onto a spit." The "intestine, which has been turned inside out and carefully washed, is rubbed thoroughly with coarse salt and then soaked in vinegar or lemon juice and water. One end of the cleaned intestine is tied to the spit and while one person holds the spit horizontally in both hands and rotates it, another 'feeds' the prepared intestine onto the skewered meats from one end to the other and back, forming a compact roll." The "free end of the intestine is tied off and the completed roll is placed over coals to roast" and is "occasionally basted with lemon and olive oil. "When done, the skewer is removed" and the kakorec is "cut in thick slices about the width of a thumb." I was more than pleasantly surprised. I was prepared for it to have an off-putting smell and taste, but it had neither. It was nicely seasoned and textured and was relatively moist and fatty. The texture changed somewhat depending on the underlying meat, whether kidney, heart, liver, etc. This was my most adventurous eating choice of our trip and I was rewarded with some memorable bites.
Kakorec or grilled lamb intestines

Kakorec or grilled lamb intestines
My main dish was mish qengji i pjekur, or baked lamb, which also came with baked potatoes. The lamb was good, but disappointingly absent the lamby taste that I love, kind of like the spit-roasted lamb I had in Bosnia. Surprisingly, I think the lamb intestines may have been more flavorful than the baked lamb, but still, the baked lamb was good, just not a home run. 
For dessert we shared some kataifi, which looks disgustingly like a cross between a sea cucumber and some shredded wheat. It is made of phyllo pastry and looks like it has been passed through a shredder. It has a center of nuts (usually almonds and walnuts) soaked in syrup and drizzled with butter. My first thoughts about the dish were not favorable and I was more than pleasantly surprised to find that I really liked it. It is a sticky and sweet variation of baklava. We had no problem putting it all down. 
We had all the ingredients of a good meal. We were hungry, we had a nice view on a beautiful day, our palates were challenged, the food was pleasing and we were pleasantly full. 

1 comment:

  1. I wouldn't say this was the BEST meal of our trip, but it was certainly one of the most authentic and certainly one of the most unique. I did love that dessert.