Societies worldwide take pride in diverse and often unique food and recipes passed down through generations. The taste and appreciation of food varies among different people and even the taste pallets of the members of a single family are not always the same.
In this myriad of food-related nuances, one thing is for sure - everyone likes good food. And there is no better food than that cultivated by natural means or close to thriving nature. Dragash/Dragaš, a rural-mountainous area located in the southernmost part of Kosovo, is an oasis of natural food. One of the least explored areas in Kosovo, the municipality of Dragash/Dragaš consists of the eponymous main town and 35 villages, with a mixed population of two communities with unique cultural heritage. Thanks to its favorable soil composition and weather conditions, the area is very suitable for natural growing and processing of food.
In addition to enriching the tables of local families, the agricultural and farming products bring much needed income for the community, especially amid the staggeringly high unemployment rates, particularly among women who are more often than not the bearers of the gastronomic heritage. Combined with the natural features and traditional engagement of the community, the grant and advisory support provided to local smallholder farmers and producers by the Austrian Development Cooperation-financed UNDP INTERDEV project strengthens the rural sector and, by extent, contributes to sustainable healthy food production.
To begin with the menu of the food products awaiting you in Dragash/Dragaš, a spoon of honey is the best way to start your day in a sweetened spirit. According to Saban Kajlesi, a local beekeeper from Glloboqicë/Globočica village, honey is not only healthy, but it also has an added effect of helping you enjoy the taste of flowers and the trees. Saying that this is exactly the reason why he manages to sell all his produce, Kajlesi adds that beekeeping brings him immense satisfaction.
A drink of warm fresh milk and honey is another delicacy within easy reach, considering that beekeeping and tending of cows, sheep or goats are widespread activities with long tradition among the local population. Good quality milk is used for household consumption, sold to dairy collection centers or turned into the famous Sharri Cheese, a sought-after delicacy of family and restaurant tables. There are several well-known producers, including Bekim Qemalidini from Bresanë/Brodosavce village, who take pride in their products and the fact that they have hard time meeting the large demand.
Continuing the taste of nature, you can enjoy an idyllic breakfast in a sunny yard with homemade cheese and bread, accompanied by scrambled or sunny-side-up fried village eggs and jam made from different locally-sourced forest fruits. Backyard poultry farming represents a good livelihood for several families, including Rami Qollopeku and Syzana Skenderi from Zym/Zjum and Brrut/Brut villages.
Syzana is one of the many power women of southern Kosovo, who take advantage of the robust rural production potential of the Sharr/Šar mountain range. Recognizing the indispensable role of women in income generation processes, the INTERDEV project strongly promotes women empowerment.
As safeguarding local gastronomy often falls into the category of unpaid work performed by women, the role of the final consumer in thoughtfully investing into sustainable, locally-sourced food products is therefore essential in promoting strong, gender-equal livelihoods.
When you spend a day with the locals, after the rich breakfast, you can observe - or even join - different activities tied to nature and food - working the garden, feeding the animals, cleaning and processing products, or collecting fruits and herbs. However, not everything is toil, so among friendly people you can also enjoy a Turkish coffee or modern versions of espresso and macchiato accompanied with sweets from local pastry shops.
By lunchtime, the fresh air and high altitude must have made you hungry and this is the best time of the day to enjoy diverse fresh meat dishes, especially lamb meat, cooked in the oven or in outside grills. Meat is usually combined with vegetables, often locally grown or brought from neighboring municipalities.
After a good lunch, you can take a walk in the numerous hiking trails of Dragash/Dragaš stretched out through a pristine nature that is the perfect medicine to relieve you from the stress and turmoil of dynamic life. Other natural food products wait for you as refreshment after your walk.
Think globally, eat locally. That is the message on the Sustainable Gastronomy Day, celebrated each year on the 18th June. Always remembering that the choices we make in our eating habits also have an impact on the environment, each of us can take action. Before you go food shopping, ask yourself, is the product in season or has required a significant amount of energy to grow in a greenhouse? Where does it come from, how many miles has the product travelled? How was it grown, by a small farmer or an industrial plant?
In Dragash/Dragaš, you will find then find the true spirit of sustainable gastronomy