Monday, May 16, 2011

Albanien: Dieses Mal, Kein Witz

I actually own an Albanian cookbook (thanks to the aforementioned crazy New York job), but like too many of my worldly possessions, it resides on the other side of the Atlantic, so I was forced to turn to Google to brush up on the ins and outs of Albanian cuisine before conquering the second country of the alphabet. Randomly enough, when you google "Albanian food," one of the first links that pops up is a youtube clip from a movie I didn't know existed, "My Mom's New Boyfriend," in which Antonio Banderas (playing some sort of gangster who's actually an undercover CIA agent (this I gleamed for you from the clip and Wikipedia)) takes Meg Ryan to an underground Albanian restaurant complete with belly dancers and drug deals. There were some men smoking in the back room at Sofra Shquiptare and a highly informational special on boob jobs gone wrong on the wall-mounted television, but the similarities pretty much end there.

The part of me that really loves a good hole in the wall really wanted to like this place. And there is something charming about it, starting perhaps with it's unpronounceable name, the website is all in Albanian (!), and the glittery murals of Albanian folklife that decorate the walls. In the end, we had a good meal and both left plenty full for less than 12 Euros. I have all too often had worse meals for a lot more money in this town. Basically, although there is a seating area and they will bring the food to your table, this is basically an Imbiss (the kind of place you might get a Döner Kebap in Deutschland or a plastic plate of dumplings or a burrito in New York). The menu includes pizzas and other fast food items, but there is a corner devoted to Albanian dishes and we focused our attention there.

We shared a cheese borek, a stuffed pepper, some stewed vegetables (eggplant, peppers, tomatoes), an order of cevapcici (casing-less beef sausages), and what might have been Sheqerpare for dessert (basically a lady finger soaked in sugar water). Ultimately, most everything was tasty and tasted like it had been made by someone, which is saying something in my book. For this kind of money, you can't really expect the best ingredients and this was most evident in the stuffed pepper, whose filling was basically just rice and ground beef. Unfortunately, the beef had the cat food-y texture of cheap ground beef. The borek, however, was pretty decent, as were the cevapcici (no doubt the same cheap meat, but less noticeable in sausage form) and the stewed vegetables. I may have ordered the wrong dessert. As mentioned, it tasted like a soggy, overly sweet lady finger. I didn't come close to finishing it and I pretty much always clean my dessert plate. The surprisingly large dessert case was filled with several intriguing options: a towering marshmallow of a cake with a thin pastry crust, a very thick sliceable vanilla pudding-type cake, something from the churro family (Tulumba), Baklava, as well as the god-awful local version of a strawberry mirror cake (hugely popular here for reasons I have yet to fathom), and tiramisu. I regret not ordering the marshmallow thing, but I was really full and went with the smallest option. I did get to live vicariously through an Albanian man (or at least he spoke Albanian with the owner) who came in as I was poking at my soggy pastry and ordered a huge box of desserts. I'm guessing that Sofra Shquiptare is probably the only place in town to load up on Albanian sweets. Actually, I think we may have found the Albanian cultural center in Berlin.

A final sad note, there is not a single Algerian restaurant, Imbiss, or market of any kind in Berlin. This I report based on my own very thorough internet research and a phone call to the Algerian embassy here. The man who answered the phone and delivered the unfortunate news agreed that this is really a shame. I don't have much hope for an Andorran restaurant, but I'm off to check it out.

Sofra Shquiptare
Pankstraße 61

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