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Liburnia (Pristina, Kosovo)

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Traditional Kosovar Albanian restaurant in Pristina, Kosovo.

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      27.02.2012 07:05
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      Hard to find restaurant in central Pristina that serves traditional Kosovo cuisine

      Visitors looking for traditional local cuisine in the Kosovo capital Pristina may find it useful to arrive armed with a map and/or guidebook. Kosovans are very proud of their hard won independence and the national flag hangs proudly across the country (apart from in the Serb held enclaves such as Mitrovica) but this national pride does not really extend to promoting Kosovan dishes.

      There are, in my opinion, a couple of possible explanations for this. One is that there is a large NGO contingent in Kosovo, especially Americans, and enterprising locals have taken advantage of this lucrative market by opening swish international style restaurants, rather than showcasing their own cuisine.

      The other is that there is no 'old town' where, typically, you would in most major cities, find the majority of traditional restaurants. When housed in old buildings, these restaurants take on a much more authentic feel and tourists tend to be drawn to them. Kosovo still gets relatively few tourists so there is not a huge market for such eateries and those foreign workers who spend more than a week or two in the country tend to go once, then seek the comfort of the food from their home countries.

      Most foreign visitors to Pristina end up at some point at Liburnia; they do this usually by recommendation and not by chance because without a map its not very easy to find and all but the most inquistive explorer would have no idea it's there at all. Armed with a map finding the restaurant is simple and you'll be glad you made the effort. There's a drawback, though; there's no tourist information office in Pristina so you'll need to print off a map before you get there, or invest in a Bradt guidebook (the only one that currently exists). Alternatively you could ask your hotel receptionist to give you directions.

      There are two Liburnia's on this street and you're looking for the one with the heavy gate. Go through the gate and into the courtyard. We visited in September when it the darkness was coming in quite early so we sat inside but I can imagine that this would be a lovely shady place to sit in summer when it can get very hot on Pristina. As is usual in this part of the world, the restaurant is made up of several dining rooms, not one vast space. This building is quite old but the interior has been made to look even older, done up to look like an old Ottoman inn. You might argue that Liburnia is more 'shabby' than 'shabby chic' but it does have a certain charm.

      As it was a quiet evening only one dining room was in use and we found ourselves a table there: it wasn't difficult as only one other was taken. The menu was presented in one of those wood and leather folio things that are meant to look olde worlde but are really a bit cheesy and tired looking. There were English translations which gave a vague idea of what to expect.

      In Kosovo traditional food means Albanian and that differs very little from the typical meaty dishes common in all of the Balkan countries, most commonly cevapcici or pljeskavica (little sausages and a flat round patty respectively, made from spicy minced meat). These dishes and others similar were to be found on the menu but there was also a section listing Kosovar Albanian specialities and we chose from these. There are a few meat-free dishes but on the whole the menu is meat dominated.

      I picked a dish that turned out to be similar to a 'toad in the hole'; instead of sausages, though, there were sizeable slabs of lamb sticking out of the batter which was wonderfully light and fluffy. This was a tasty dish but it was far too much for one person and without a sauce or vegetables it became quite heavy going.

      Himself had ordered what was described as a 'tave' (an Albanian stew) but what arrived was more like a deconstructed moussaka with tender bite size pieces of lamb in a flavoursome sauce at one end of the earthenware dish, and tomatoes, potatoes and peppers at the other. The main thing was that it tasted very good; the sauce was rich but not too heavy and the vegetables were cooked until very soft, not something I would usually do when cooking vegetables myself but in this dish the texture was lovely. It was very much 'comfort food' and more suited to a winter's evening than the dying days of summer; if we ever find ourselves in Kosov over the winter, I'll know exactly what to order.

      Two lepinja (fluffy round breads) were brought free of charge and while bread was a suitable accompaniment for the stew it didn't really go with my dish. They were good lepinja, though and much enjoyed.

      A couple of glasses of red wine for me and a couple of bottles of the local beer, Peja, didn't add too much to the bill and the overall total was somewhere in the region of Euro22, not bad for a capital city.

      The service was friendly if a little slow at times but we weren't in a hurry so it didn't matter too much. I know that business people do entertain clients or potential clients here and wonder how you might fare if you wanted a quick lunch. On our way out the waiter asked if we wanted to see the private dining room. This room is a bit more attractive than the other rooms and we were told that it's often used for entertaining important government visitors.

      People tell me there are better places to try traditional food in Pristina; this, however, is the most central and its lovely courtyard does attract diners in the summer. The food is not spectacular but the combination of tasty dishes and pleasant surroundings mean that Liburnia is a safe choice.

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