Trust Us, We Meant to Order the Cow‑Head Stew
Paçe in Tirana
Albania has a message for the world: after decades of war, dictatorship, and Ponzi schemes, we now have our shit together.
This is especially the case when it comes to eating. Restaurants are open and full. Tirana has a lively, packed, and affordable selection of restaurants, cafes, and bars. They’re like 10,000 middle fingers pointed at the days when finding enough to eat in this war-ravaged, totalitarian hellhole was a Herculean task.
For breakfast, most Albanians, at least in Tirana, have adopted the regimen of their continental brothers, especially the Italians across the Adriatic: pastries, sweets, and coffee, either espresso or overflowing with foam. But for those looking for something a bit more traditional, a fat bowl of paçe is what you’re after.
Paçe (pronounced PAH-chay) is a stew, made from the meat from the head of a cow. The head is boiled until the meat slides right off the skull, and is then stewed with salt, pepper, garlic, and onion.
At Qebaptore Tini, which according to Google Translate means “Cheeky Teen,” the waitress wasn’t sure if paçe was really what we wanted. It was a small diner off the main road, and they’re not used to seeing a lot of foreigners in there.
When we assured her the best we could we did want paçe, she pointed to her stomach and then to her head. It took a few moments to get the point–did we want it made with stomach meat or head meat? We were under the impression it was only made with head meat, so we chose that. I suppose the stomach one is for the more adventurous.
She wobbled off to the kitchen to put it together for us. When it came out, it looked like a bowl full of vomit, with shredded beef and many little globules of fat. I’m no anatomist, but rubbing my own head, I never thought of the meat up there being particularly fatty. Or green.
Despite how it looked, it tasted like your run-of-the-mill beef soup, but knowing an entire cow’s head had gone into its preparation made it extra special. It was thick, savory, and salty, and I finished it gratefully, mopping up the remains with the bread that comes with every Albanian meal.