Berat’s most recommended restaurant must be grand with elaborately crafted food or the most picturesque views – right?
Our evening at Homemade Food Lili was unlike any dining experience I’ve ever had.
On arriving in Berat, our accommodation (the city’s very first and original hostel, Berat Backpackers) recommended that we book if we want to try the city’s most popular restaurant. I called a few minutes later and was lucky enough to reserve the last of just six tables at Homemade Food Lili. Located on the hillside famous for hundreds of windows, it’s not hugely accessible so just take my word for it that, if you’re able, tackling the Mangalem district’s sloped, cobbled streets is worth it. After walking up the steep hills to the castle for sunset, we could definitely say that we’d earned our dinner!
Lili himself is the charismatic host and what a character! He runs the restaurant from the courtyard adjacent to his home and it’s a truly family business – his wife cooks each dish behind the scenes and his father creates the locally brewed wine and raki which is poured more and more liberally throughout the evening.
After bouncing around tables taking drinks orders in a multitude of languages, Lili brought out a large cardboard sign, hushed the courtyard and explained the menu in great detail. It’s a small menu but features many of the Albanian specialities you’d expect including:
- Fergesë: tomato, pepper and cheese bake
- Imam Bajalldi: stuffed aubergine with onion, garlic and tomato
- Ricotta & tomato with local bread
- Veniz: Berati ‘beef’ that’s actually a pork ‘sausage’ stuffed with cheese
Lili is great at recommending pairings and portion sizes so once we’d placed our order, we could sit and enjoy the atmosphere. Honestly, I don’t think I stopped smiling once listening to his excited descriptions of the food and watching him bounce around the restaurant talking to everybody animatedly.
When the food arrived, we unanimously agreed that it was delicious across the board. My favourite was the stuffed aubergine – although I had a soft spot for the rice-stuffed tomato that was bursting with flavour too. Even writing about it over a year later, my mouth is watering.
Once dinner is over, people start to trickle out but most stay for at least a raki or two with Lili to wash down their meal. He refilled our shot glasses (and his) so many times that in the end, I started hiding my unfinished glass in fear of not being able to find our hostel in the maze-like streets. His adorable dog Bianco also made a guest appearance as Lili was recommending his favourite beaches to visit on our upcoming trip to the coast – the perfect way to top off an evening.
Will Homemade Food Lili be there forever? I hope so: it would be incredible to return to Albania and enjoy another amazing evening there one day. Lili chatted about his dream of buying a campervan and travelling through Europe once his kids were at university but I’m confident that the ever-growing number of tourists to Albania will keep Lili’s tables full for all the years to come.