Prishtina Insight’s guide to buying local for the holidays.
The holidays are right around the corner, and Kosovo offers plenty of locally produced goods to make great gifts for your family and friends.
In a time when virtual transactions — from bitcoins to in-app purchases — are making a killing in markets around the world, it is becoming ever important to give a gift that one can hold in their hands, such as books, gourmet items, souvenirs, and local filigree.
While shopping, probably with “Jingle Bells” repeating endlessly in your head, or perhaps the tune of “My Favorite Things,” you can take a rest by grabbing a cup of gluhwein or coffee at the holiday market on Zahir Pajaziti Square, which opened on Wednesday. And if ‘brown paper packages tied up with strings, are few of your favorite things,’ you can shop for beautiful packaging at your last stop — Talens, the biggest arts and crafts store in Prishtina, which offers plenty of choices for wrapping paper, bags, bows, and ribbons.
A drink for the Goddess on the Throne
There is an abundance of brand names when it comes to Kosovo wines: Sefa, Daka, Bodrumi i Vjeter, and Stonecastle all produce varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Vranac, Chardonnay, and Riesling.
It’s the reds you want to focus on when gifting a bottle of local wine for the holidays. Go for a Vranac, a Balkan grape variety, or Cabernet Sauvignon, which would both be excellent to uncork at a holiday dinner party or during a heavy snowfall.
The price of local wines ranges between three and 20 euros. Most of the wine varieties can be found at grocery shops and supermarkets such as Viva Fresh, Albi Market, and Meridian. But for a more luxury gift, try Sirius Wine Shop at Agim Ramadani Street. And of course, if you are into road trips to Kosovo’s wine country, the gift shop at the Decani Monastery has some excellent wines, cheeses, and other small gifts produced right on their property.
Daka Wine, a great Rahovec producer, can deliver to your home in Prishtina, and for 10 euros you can get a bottle of their Daka Wine Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. You can order through their Facebook page, or by calling +38649316923.
An extra special gift would be Kulla Sefa’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (at around 12 euros per bottle), which has an oaky nose with hints of fruit and vanilla.
If you take a stroll through Mother Teresa Boulevard, you can check the Rings restaurant, which has its wine shop inside. Here you can buy a bottle of Elephant Cabernet Sauvignon, a label by Bodrumi i Vjeter, for around 16 euros.
For an Albanian wine, try the Kallmet from Kantina Arberi (at around 13 to 19 euros per bottle). This recently rediscovered grape variety indigenous to northern Albania is a must try gift for the wine lovers, and makes a medium bodied wine aged in oak, with hints of toasted apple and berries.
Dionysius in a bottle
The best kind of rakia is the one you get from that one family friend who distills it exclusively in small batches, just enough to provide you with the couple of bottles to last you through the cold winter. In lieu of a family connection, you can contact Daka Wine, whose rakia strives for that home-made taste. In addition to classic grape rakia, they also have varieties made from pear, quince, and even a honey-flavored rakia (all for around seven euros). Daka Wine does same day deliveries of their rakia (and wine) in Prishtina; orders can be placed through their Facebook page or via phone.
For the luxury brands, again, try Sirius Wine Shop. For a smoky feel on the palate, go for Kantina Arberi’s grape rakia (half a liter for 8 euros) which gets its taste from a Shesh i bardhe white grape variety that is specific to northern Albania.
Rasoj is the juice from jars of pickled cabbage, which in rustic regions of Kosovo is served as a refreshing drink, supposedly full of vitamins and microbiotic goodness.
An unexpected gift would be to wrap a bottle of rakia together with jar of rasoj, and include instructions on how to make a Balkan pickleback. Our proposed method involves a serving of two shot glasses: one filled with rakija, and one with rasoj as a chaser.
You could either drink them as shots, rakija first, immediately followed by the rasoj, or you could slowly sip them, alternating between tastes.
The burning with the aftertaste of grape will be perfectly matched by the refreshing taste of the briny chaser with hints of mildly acidic cabbage.
Rasoj can be found at the Prishtina ‘mobile’ Farmer’s market — on Tuesdays at the Zahir Pajaziti Square, on Wednesdays at the Dardania neighborhood close to Bill Clinton statue, and on Thursdays near the Brotherhood and Unity monument. For one euro you can buy a two liter bottle of purple rasoj.
Preserves and other goodies in a jar
Ajvar’s sweet taste of peppers is often complemented by a mild spiciness, depending on the type of red peppers used. Hints of smokiness are a must and will serve as that Proustian memory device to bring you back to Kosovo.
If you go for the gourmet version, Tiffany Restaurant sells a jar of ajvar for 3.5 euros, and you can choose either the hot or mild version. For the same price they also sell homemade jam — the only question you have to ask yourself is if you feel like strawberries, cherries, or blackberries.
Tiffany’s also sells their homemade spices, which would make a great addition to a Balkan pantry gift set. For 2.5 euros you can get their homemade ground red pepper, or you could also pick up their homemade wild garlic salt.
At the ‘mobile’ Farmer’s Market, you can find jars of homemade ajvar for two to three euros. For three to five euros you can find big jars of preserved vegetables — we recommend pickled red peppers with garlic and parsley, as well as small red tomatoes with herbs. For the same price you can find various homemade jams as well. For the sweet tooths, we recommend natural honey. It can be bought for 10 to 15 euros at Prishtina ‘mobile’ Farmer’s Market.
Make sure you check your food import laws with the airport of your destination before you decide whether to smuggle in a gift basket with Balkan pantry staples.
Soaps and skincare for wellness lovers
Huumë is a brand-new line of handmade, natural skincare products, including lip balms, natural deodorant, creams, and soaps, all made by Prishtina native Arberore Riza.
The name is a play on the word humë (Bentonite clay), a healing clay often found in homeopathic cabinets. Kosovo grandmothers and great grandmothers used to use clay in their skincare, explained Riza, especially in shampoo bars. She wants to bring natural, handmade products back into focus in Kosovo.
Each Huumë product is made from natural ingredients, such as coconut oil and shea butter, and are unique formulas developed by Riza herself, who has a background in cultural studies and spends her time scourging homeopathic research texts.
All ingredients that can be grown in Kosovo are sourced from local producers; for example, one soap includes locally produced yogurt, cucumber juice, and pure Decani honey. Another face and body soap for soap for acne-prone skin has Kosovo tomato juice.
A holiday soap special, which includes packages of several soaps in fun winter shapes, like a Christmas tree and gingerbread man, would serve as a great gift on its own. Other little bits — the lip balm is amazingly buttery and smells lovely — would be great stocking stuffers.
Holiday gift sets are priced at around 10-12 euros. Riza is still in the process of entering the market, so for now, she produces all products at home. For orders and delivery, contact Riza at +38649403303, [email protected], or message her on Facebook.
For coffee and tea lovers
In Kosovo, it’s known as Turkish coffee; in Bosnia, it’s called Bosnian coffee; and in Greece, Greek coffee (you get the picture).
This holiday season, head over to Cafe Mocha on Luan Haradinaj Street, where you can purchase bags of freshly roasted coffee — light, medium, or dark roasts — for 70 cents for 100 grams. You can even experiment with mixing the roasts, such as ordering a batch with 30 per cent light roast and 70 per cent dark.
Cafe Mocha, which has been selling coffee since 1989, also offers the traditional copper coffee pot, the xhezve, priced at three to six euros, depending on size. A bag of delicious-smelling coffee, boxed and wrapped with a brand new xhezve, is the perfect gift for those on your list with a caffeine fix.
Meanwhile, if your friends and family members prefer tea, shop hundreds of regional choices on UCK Street. Fruitland and Bio Natural Shop sell everything from chamomile to white tea and juniper.
The scent when you enter Fruitland, which stores its teas in huge glass jars, is simply magical.
At Bio Natural Shop, the shopkeeper encourages you to taste the teas on selection.
The shops also have other culinary gifts: a great pair to a bag of tea would be a jar of local honey, or perhaps some oils and specialty spices.
Accessories and design
Nearly every home in Prishtina has a figurine of Hyjnesha n’fron, the Goddess on the Throne, a neolithic archaeological artifact which was found in the suburbs of Prishtina.
The goddess — which some say resembles an alien — has a straight posture, arms crossed on her lap. The original relic is currently in the National Museum of Kosovo.
Any Prishtina souvenir shop, such as the one beside Grand Hotel, offers figurines of the goddess in its original terracotta color priced at three to 10 euros. But for a unique gift, De Arte on Agim Ramadani Street carries several modern colors such as maroon, baby pink, and green, with prices ranging from six to 28 euros depending on size and material.
Meanwhile, at souvenir shop Art e Zanat, artist Ilire Lepaja incorporates the goddess into her novel designs, as well as other cultural motifs unique to Kosovo and the region. Check out her shop, on Rr. Andrea Gropa, for tote bags, art prints, mugs, embroidered pillows, and holiday cards. For clay plates and holiday tree ornaments, DHE by Granita has a beautiful selection of handmade goods that you can purchase at Sonder or by contacting the artisan through Facebook.
For music lovers, look for Mehdi Kryeziu, who sells traditional Albanian string instruments, such as the cifteli, sharki, and prim, in Zahir Pajaziti square. Prices range from 15 euros for the smallest cifteli, all the way to 400 euros for the biggest sharki.
Shopping for Filigree with a shot of rakia
Filigree, an age-old craft of finely twisted silver, is often a go-to gift for families and friends abroad. The metalwork craft, though not specific to Kosovo, has been an important part of Kosovo’s cultural history. Though the trade has been dying since the ‘90s, several jewelers, who often carry on decades-old family businesses, are still working to preserve the craft.
At Dodo Silver in Prishtina, located across from the Grand Hotel at Rruga Garibaldi 33, you can find several creative designs that cover every price range and person on your list. Filigree jeweler Lek Berisha makes classic items found in just about every filigree shop — brooches, necklaces, rings, bracelets, and earrings, often in organic, ornate shapes and incorporating colorful jewels and rocks — but also a few unique designs of his own. Some favorite special pieces include earrings in the shape of the Hand of Fatima or the Goddess on the Throne, filigree cigarette cases, and framed pieces, such as a filigree kulla or the likeness of Mother Teresa, to be hung as art.
Dodo Silver is a tiny shop, so striking up a talk with Berisha is nearly inevitable. As the small talk turns to more intimate conversation, he has been known to pull a bottle of walnut or fruit rakia from behind his counter, pouring a shot and clinking plastic cups with his customers.
I’m LU is a locally-owned store tucked away behind Hotel Sirius in Prishtina, selling gift items handmade right there in the back room of the store. It’s easy to miss, but you won’t be disappointed when you find it.
I’m LU combines leather and recycled materials to make original and stylish products. Strewn across the shelves are custom-made cushions, minimalist clutch bags, patterned handbags, tote bags and backpacks of assorted colors, shapes and sizes that are suitable for men, women and children.
If you’re looking for a gift that you wouldn’t find anywhere other than Kosovo, I’m LU has a range of bags with a modern twist on traditional Kosovo Albanian imagery incorporated into the design. For example, some are decorated with the Goddess on the Throne, or elegant silhouettes of figures sporting the white cap traditionally worn by Albanians.
The gifts range from five to 30 euros in price, which is very hard to pass up. I’m LU Bags is open Monday-Friday until 7:00 pm. To see more examples of their work, check out their Instagram.
And if you’re looking to gift special pieces from local winter fashion collections, designer Venera Mustafa’s new line is a PI favorite. Head to her showroom on Rruga B to comb through ready-to-wear pieces with architectural details and inspiration from traditional clothing of the women of Has. For outerwear, Krenare Rugova’s atele on Rruga Garibaldi offers a collection of winter coats, beautifully constructed from duvets handmade in Prizren.
Dukagjini book shop
If you’re lucky, as you wander through the stacks of The Dukagjini Bookstore on Mother Theresa Boulevard, you will enjoy the sounds of classical piano being gently played in the background. Here, you can browse their broad selection of books in both Albanian and English that will make the perfect gift for avid readers.
They stock an assortment of different guides for the Kosovo traveler, and for those interested in learning about the history of Kosovo, there are a number of paper and hardback history books to choose from.
And if you’re really strapped for space to bring gifts home, there are some beautiful pocket-sized editions of Albanian poetry translated into English, from authors such as Teuta S. Rizaj and Qerim Raqi, as well as Albanian anecdotes and collected short stories by Salih Zogiani, Yljet Alicka, and Arben Kondi.
Another recommendation is How to be a Kosovan Bride by Naomi Hamill, an exploration of the experiences of women in modern-day Kosovo, memories of the war, and traditional Albanian fairy tales all weaved into one story.
Dukagjini carries all the contemporary fiction you could ask for, including the whole range of fiction by Ismail Kadare, the famous Albanian poet and novelist. You can find biographies, music, art and film guides specifically from Kosovo or from around the world. For a special gift, we recommend one of the stunning large hardback photography books, Kosovo: a Land to Discover by Ismail Gagica, and Majestic Kosovo by Arben Islami, which feature photographs documenting Kosovo’s recent history, culture, nature and art.
The Dukagjini Bookstore is located opposite the Swiss Diamond Hotel on Mother Theresa Boulevard, and is open Monday-Friday 8:00 am – 9:00 pm, and Saturday from 9:00 am – 7:00 pm.
All illustrations by Jeta Dobranja/Trembelat.