Tea, spices, aromatic oil and infusions: a gustatory and olfactory journey in the heart of Kosovo
FRANCESCA MASOTTI | 25 OTT, 2021
There is always a good reason to travel to the Balkans: visit new places, learn about different cultures, discover gastronomic traditions. And about this, Kosovo, in the hearts of the peninsula, does not disappoint its visitors. The youngest state of Europe is not only on the front pages of the most noted magazines of the world thanks to its famous singers -Dua Lipa among all- and thanks to films competing in the most prestigious international cinematography competitions – recently, Hive, winner of three awards at the Sundance Film Festival and candidate for the Oscar- but is also one of the new gastronomic hubs not to be missed in the Balkans. Excellent traditional food revisited in modern terms, restaurants of impeccable design and small enterprises which produce with the best local ingredients excellent gastronomic products.
As a tourist destination, Kosovo is slowly starting to get talked about. As a gastronomic destination, however, it is still largely unknown. However, local enterprises are growing, one more interesting than the other and most of them managed by women who, thanks to the support of international organizations operating in the area, have begun to make their way into the Kosovo world of work. In fact, since 2001, Swisscontact, a Swiss foundation which has offices in Prishtina, supports four small enterprises in making and commercializing their products. Thanks to specific programs, some of these women have managed to work with international experts and learn from them: such is the case of Rudina Qosja who has studied with the Swiss chef Sepp Scharli to develop innovative recipes and techniques for her business Rudi’s Cake Factory, one of the best pastry places in the Kosovo capital.
Almost nobody knows, but one of the best chaffron in Europe is cultivated in Kosovo: since some years now, Vicianum GreenFarm thinks about producing and selling it. This is a family business in Prishtina, one of the first in the country involved in the cultivation and processing of natural innovative food products including the pistils of crocus sativus. Unlike other ingredients produced by the company, cultivated and consumed by the local population for centuries - such as tea and dried fruit - saffron was a semi-unknown product in the Balkan country. << My husband Qemajl and I worked hard to introduce chaffron in our food market informing the consumer also and above all about its health benefits: the flower pistil, in fact, are antioxidants, antidepressants, and antispasmodic>>, says Qefsere Vuçitërna, manager of Vicianum GreenFarm. Its store shelves present a unique opportunity to take a gustatory and olfactory journey into the heart of Kosovo, among spices, pumpkin seed oil, berry jams, wild apple and pomegranate vinegars, tea.
Speaking about the tea: what nowadays is fashionable, a trendy product, has been a tradition in Kosovo for centuries. The infusions were not and still are not used just to treat seasonal ailments of the respiratory system, but hot drinks made of wild mountain herbs, berries and aromatic plants are sipped in convivial moments, during or outside meals, in the company of family, friends, relatives. Mint, calendula, elderflower, sage, mallow, rosehip. These are some of the teas made by Botanic-llc, a local company run entirely by women by the sisters Arnita and Blerinda Veliu. <<Into the Wild is the tagline of our brand: the goal we have set ourselves, in fact, is to promote biodiversity in favour of a sustainable future for our country, and the entire planet, based on a close connection between humans and nature. All the ingredients at the base of our products come from the mountains of Kosovo and are organic, certified according to European standards>>, says Arnita. If suffices to smell the elderflower tea to be transported right away into the wide valleys of Kosovo, or the rosehip tea to be catapulted into the lush forests that cover the westernmost region of the Balkan country and which, in terms of beauty, have no reason to envy the most famous woods of the old continent.
Even the tea infusions of Erblina Avdijaj, the brain behind Bliff, which she runs together with her sisters Fitorja and Fatbardha, are made of precious wild mountain herbs. Each phase of the production chain is meticulously carried out in this family-run business: the ingredients - all aromatic medicinal plants rich in beneficial health effects - are grown in Kosovo according to high biological standards, the plants are passed in special dryers so such as to preserve the aroma and also the original colour of the product, then they are processed and cleaned with sophisticated machinery. Subsequently, each herb is processed to be made into tea. <<The mountain tea and linden tea are the products that, perhaps most of all, represent Kosovo: their unmistakable aroma immediately brings to mind the homes of our grandparents who traditionally drank fresh tea not only to strengthen health in the harsh winter months, but also and above all for personal pleasure>>, says Erblina. Her tea products: mint, chamomile, peach and apricot, mountain fruit, linden, hibiscus, can be found in her boutique in Istog, a town in the north-west, but also in many shops in the country. To allow everyone to take home a little bit of Kosovo.