A refreshing addition to the Prishtina’s culinary and cultural scene, Menza Ramiz Sadiku brings to life an old 1960s canteen with contemporary interior design, a seasonally-inspired menu and locally sourced produce.
Although smack bang in the middle of the Prishtina, Menza Ramiz Sadiku is well-hidden, tucked in a small alleyway not far from Zahir Pajaziti Square, protected from the bustle by a wall of shops and restaurants surrounding it.
Despite being open for less than two weeks, one of its owners, Gresa Sefaj, is already busy preparing for a seasonal change in menu as the days in Prishtina start getting longer.
“We’re going to see a lot of cinnamon and orange flavors for the spring/summer menu,” said Sefaj, smiling.
Focusing the restaurant’s menu not on the dishes themselves, but around scents and flavors, Sefaj is excited to bring French and Italian influences to their new menu, and tells me that a “Californian twist” is also on its way.
Spicing things up with different cooking styles and inspiration is not Menza Ramiz Sadiku’s main philosophy, though: using local ingredients and produce, supporting Kosovo workers and other members of the community is their aim, from farmers and butchers to musicians and artists.
“Workers’ rights are human rights, and we want to do as much as we can using this space to give back to the community,” she said.
Before she can explain what she means, a salad that she chose for me to taste is presented.
A hearty green salad with goat’s cheese, crushed walnuts, grilled zucchini and locally picked sundried tomatoes with a sumac, garlic and olive oil dressing is set on the table.
Although not daunting in size, it is clear that this is the kind of salad that needs no salt, no vinegar and certainly no bread – I was too busy devouring velvety sundried tomatoes and perfectly charred chunks of zucchini to even complement her inventive and tasty dish.
Menza Ramiz Sadiku feels like the right kind of place to fill an empty stomach – decades ago, the building was used as a mensa, a canteen for the workers of the company Ramiz Sadiku, one of the biggest construction companies of former Yugoslavia.
More than 7,000 people would eat here during the day, said Sefaj, and then at night, this would be their cultural center where they would drink, dance and listen to music and poetry.
With its high ceilings, soft furnishings, crystal chandeliers and candles and fresh flowers adorning every table, it’s difficult to visualize the building’s origins in the 1960s – but not after Sefaj tells me stories about the process behind revitalizing the building.
After standing derelict for many years with no roof or windows, Sefaj and her partners renovated the construction from the ground up, keeping as many of the original features of the building as possible. Different layers of plaster, paint and brick that Sefaj has kept exposed show the many faces and rejuvenations the building has experienced over almost six decades.
Sefaj explained that the building’s origin was an inspiration for “giving back” to the people through this restaurant – using Kosovo produce to benefit local workers, hosting art exhibitions for Prishtina students and musical events for smaller artists throughout the year are her ways of ensuring that people get more than just food out of the Menza.
On Friday Menza Ramiz Sadiku hosted an ethno jazz night, with Agona Shporta and Ilir Bajri on its stage, the first of many events to follow, according to Sefaj. Saturday night will see Nezafeta Shala and his band playing traditional Albanian songs that the workers of Ramiz Sadiku would have been likely to hear in the ‘60s.
Unlike the building itself, the food menu has no intention of being reminiscent of the 20th century. Open from 07.00, you can choose omelettes and pancakes for breakfast, or perhaps the “menza” house breakfast: homemade raisin bread, jams, honey, butter and cheese, none of them costing more than 3.90 euros.
A huge range of different cheeses produced by local farmers are used to make their mezze plate, a selection of Albanian artisanal cheeses with fruits jams and bread on the side for 6.5 euros, and add a meatier selection alongside it for 10 euros.
Vegetarians are more than welcome at Menza Ramiz Sadiku, with choices like beetroot, carrot and orange salad with onions and a sumac dressing, a wild mushroom risotto, or a homemade pesto penne made with pine nuts, almonds, parmesan and basil.
Salads range between 2.8 euros and 3.9 euros, while vegetarian main dishes are no more expensive than 6.5 euros.
Meat eaters can choose from dishes like chicken fillet with peach and pistachio couscous, salmon with a sesame seed crust served with fresh garlic and spinach, or a selection of lunchtime sandwiches with chicken, turkey, mozzarella, bresaola, parma ham paired with roasted peppers, dried tomatoes, basil and lettuce, the sandwiches costing around 3 euros and the mains between 5 and 10 euros.
If you can drag your eyes away from the huge stage that spans across one side of the building and look across the room, old scaffolding bars have been repurposed and tied together around the bar, with LED lights inserted inside them that criss-cross above the countertop.
Hosting a healthy range of beers and wines, Menza Ramiz Sadiku also offers a selection of ten or so cocktails on its menu, some classic and some custom made, all using organic fruit purees produced by friend of the bar Kushtrim Hasimi.
Using natural ingredients and local produce, Hasimi is another local, independent business owner that Menza Ramiz Sadiku relies on, who has created his own line of fresh fruit purees, syrups and bitters for bars in Kosovo.
I try his refreshing version of lemonade using his own raspberry puree, a mixture of fresh lime, raspberry and vanilla syrup garnished with green apple.
Ramiz Sadiku’s menu of raspberry mojitos, strawberry daiquiris and other fruity twists on classic drinks would match well with an afternoon sitting in Menza’s sun-soaked terrace.
My lunch ends with a flourless chocolate cake made using walnuts and almonds, free range eggs and dark chocolate, dusted with icing sugar and topped with delicate chocolate shavings and sprigs of mint, with rice pudding with lime and ginger also on offer, but too much to handle in one sitting. I look forward to having it next, and I’ll have to do it quickly – the spring/summer menu is on its way.
Menza Ramiz Sadiku is open from 07.00-00.00 Monday-Saturday. For their menu, latest events and more information, check out their Facebook page.
03 March 2019 - 11:31
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