BY Prof. Dr. Andrea Shundi */
The core of this discussion is derived from my book “Arbereshe E(t)nogastronomy” published in 2016. The classical definition of enogastronomy is that “it comprises complementary linkages within a territory between wines and quality food among others “. It is a testimony of the culture and economy of a country. It is widely accepted that agricultural and gastronomical activities have defined the sedentary life of people at the beginning of civilization.
The book presents traditions, realities, perspectives of Arberesh enogastronomy as a system of values in two aspects: technical/professional and linguistic. It covers 610 food recipes, 26 vine cultivars, 40 enogastronomical activities, 31 wine cellars and restaurants. From the linguistic point of view, the Arberesh-Italian-Albanian enogastronomical dictionary includes 1300 terms, synonyms and 720 proverbs and traditions. Besides the linguistic and genetic analysis, the book proposes certain classifications and the inclusion of certain terms and synonyms in the standard Albanian language.
The essence of Arberesh enogastronomy is bio-agriculture, which is part of the Mediterranean diet. Arberesh enogastronomy also means “Farmer First” and “Slow Food”; it’s serves for more environmental and healthy tourism purposes. Through the research and use of Arberesh enogastronomy, I have distinguished further the traditions, cultural and material heritage of Arberesh and Albanians overall. Some meaningful examples are:
- Series of unique foods and deserts grouped into manner preparation of dough, soups, meals with meat, fish, vegetables, cheeses, olives, sausages, sweets and processed fruits; 2. Variety of wines and their use in cooking; more frequent use of red than white wine, table wines, desert wines, sweet wines paired with bread dipping it into wine, thick aromatic wines, warm wines, labrusca wine, etc. 3. Terms and pure words that are worth to consider for use in standard Albanian. For example: canes tie (lidhje shermendesh), rootstock (biljezë = fidan), shoot (fillestar =
lastar), planting (fytim = mbëltim fidani), new vine (hardhizë = hardhi e re), wooden jug (kryerinë = bucelë), pergola (lisarjel = pjergull), barrel (mbroni = vozë), wine press ( shtrydhore = trokull), etc. 4. Proverbs that are endless instructive and inspirated. For example: ”Love each other like bread and wine”, ”Vineyard and olive garden are sufficient for good living”, “Like rootstock, like vineyard”, “Be honored like bread and wine”, “Live as long as bread and wine”, “Beautiful like wine”. 5. Traditions, rites and celebrations, well wishes and songs that are connected with the enogastronomy activities are endless. Also there are 14 dishes named in honor of Skanderbeg, national hero, like: Skanderbeg cheese, Skanderbeg kulaç, Skanderbeg salad, Skanderbeg soup ect. 6. Traditional crafts that have survived centuries. Evidence that Ilirian craftsmen alongside the Romans have passed on the mastery of wooden jags to Panoni. This tradition of wooden utensils production is characteristic, especially at Mashqita Arbereshe. Also, ceramic wine utensils continue to be produced in Salentino Albanese region. “Kapazuni”, a utensil with a flat bottom that can hold 1000 liters of wine is a symbol and pride of this area.
Through studying technical, linguistic and philosophical aspects of Arberesh enogastronomy, I have identified similarities and cross points with Pan-Albanian enogastronomy, without leaving aside the similarities with Italian gastronomy.
Conceptually and philosophycally, such similarities cover:
- Welcoming guests not only with cordiality and food, but protecting them in case of danger; 2. Utilizing every alimentary product, cooking them and further foods processing are fundamental in Arberesh enogastronomy. Bread for instance, besides being used fresh is also used stale with milk, wine, toasted, or in olive oil. Bread crumbs are also used for pasta, pan fried etc. 3. Winter household provisions like meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, olives, dairies, smoking, canning, salting and olive oil preserving. 4. Home cooking is prevalent in Arberesh gastronomy as well as in overall Albanian cooking.
Similarities in terms and gastronomical practices are also plenty. For instance, both areas use bread, bukevale, kulac, lakror, pershesh, beignes, pita, etc. Also, Arberesh use lamb and goat less than a year old over beef, as they predominantly live in hilly and mountainous areas. Vegetables are very common in Arberesh population as they are in Albania, Italy and other Mediterranean countries. The most popular are various spontaneously grown leafy and tuberous vegetables “Liakrat”. A group of researchers under the leadership of professor Andrea Pieroni have conducted five expeditions on the “liakras” of Vulture region where there are five Arberesh Communes. They appreciated the most the black small onion (Leopoldia
comosa) and knapweed (Centaurea calcitrapa). Beans complement each other in daily cooking and are a key protein alongside meats, fish and dairies. Herbs like mint, bay leaves, fennel, parsley, rosemary, sage, basil etc. as well as spice plants like onion, garlic, pepper etc. are used in breads, beans, meats, sausages, salads etc. Among most, hot pepper is prevalent in South of Italy and Arberesh communities. Like herbs, hot peppers are grown in gardens and pots. Deserts are cooked in every Arberesh home and are very unique because main their components are: must, honey from honeybee or figs, lots of enzymes and fibers. One such great example is “Easter kulaç/bread” that is named “majestic sweet”, but there are also 45 other quality deserts with Arberesh names.
In the vein of similarities are the technologies in producing wines through grapes selfpressing and grape juice fermenting in barrels where grapes and grape raceme are together. This method has been used in France centuries ago. It is also used in Arberesh communities and some parts of Albania (Narta, Pogradec, etc). Like Albanians, Arberesh produce wine from Labrusca grape. In addition, sweet and thick wine is mixed with bread crumbs. Children and old people have breakfast or dinner with this mix of wine and bread crumbs.
In this “Arbereshe E(t)nogastronomy” book are explained 60 recipes where wine, grape juice and dried grapes are involved in preparing different dough products (like breads, pastas, pitas, etc.), in meat and fish dishes and in deserts. Wine is a diet therapy, healthy, sign of wellbeing and joy. Centrality of wine in the gastronomy and people’s lives has now become a part of daily life. Many authors consider wine “ambrozia”, food of the gods. Wine enhances taste, flavor and color of food as well as softens food. It increases food value, digestion, and increases the joy around the table.
Majority of cooking is in Arberesh language which testifies to the originality and ancient traditions. It is the inheritance of a rural society, organic gardening where home cooking is prevalent – simple but intelligent cooking. Arberesh have the culture of the table not only for eating, but also for behaving and having good and joyful conversations; that is why eating at the table is sacred.
Culinary Arberesh art follows seasonality as well as religious and secular traditions, preparing certain foods during different holidays. Above all, fresh season produce dominates cooking. This contributes to good health, wellbeing, and taking care of guests. In the Lek Dukagjin Laws (Kanun), goes as far as affirming that “House of Albanians is of God and of the Guests”.
Arberesh gastronomy has exchanged extensively with the Italian tradition which is very well known worldwide, but it has preserved the way of cooking and combining ingredients in certain way depending on the environment and certain traditions. Therefore some of dishes and sweets are named unical of Arberesh enogastronomy. Such are: “dromësat” and “shtridhelat”, that are considered “Flower in bud” and the “Arberesh enogastronomy archeology”. These dishes are prepared only through housewife’s hands and they are cooked paired with chickpeas
and/or beans. Also omelet made of scrambled eggs, flour and chopped chicory, decorated with fresh bristle thistle and caper branches. Interesting there are different sweets as fried dough balls covered in honey, thick sweet pita filled with cottage ricotta and baked in oven, “brides” kind of large cookies doll’s shape and decorated with red boiled eggs, symbolizing bride’s face.
At first sight, ethnic cooking leaves one ambivalent as it is very unique evaluation, rooted in a specific territory and encompasses centuries of experience. Dishes are material and nonmaterial parts where the culture and way of living of Arberesh people is both obvious and not so obvious, is touchable and untouchable. These foods help in knowing the essence of Arberesh people; they are both kind of “hardware” and software” of their daily living.
This Arberesh enogastronomy treasure needs to be studied and spread further beyond the homemaker cooking into the social and business sphere and furthermore into tourism. It needs to be adopted into modern enogastronomy without taking away the essence: natural ingredients, ways of cooking, colors, smells and original tastes.
Arberesh enogastronomy will live as long as bread and wine!
Tirana June 4, 2016.
*(FAO, Academy of Sciences of Albania, Agriculture University of Tirana)
Tirana –Albania, June 5-6, 2016
A Cultural and Material Inheritance of Albanian Enogastronomy