18 Feb 13

No Food With a Face: Prishtina's New Vegetarian Eatery

Elizabeth Gowing

Phoebe, the vegetarian character from the American sitcom “Friends,” explains the basic rule underpinning her eating habits as “no food with a face.”

There’s now a great chance for her to eat well at a Prishtina restaurant, with the opening of a wonderful new venture by the former chef at Tingell Tangell bar.

The eatery recently opened by Nuki and her husband, Vigan, is part of a developing countercultural quartier of clean living in the alley behind Metro cafe, across from the Grand Hotel.

Regular readers of this column will know I’ve already drooled over the restaurant’s nearest neighbour, the health food shop Sacro, which opened a while ago offering delights for the gourmet, the environmentalist and the vegetarian – unusual teas and tisanes, exotic spices, rare local products (barley flour, fantastic honeys, dried porcini mushrooms), and an abundance of lentils.

Nuki’s place now develops the theme, and shows just what can be done with some of those ingredients in the hands of an excellent chef. I was impressed by the soup of the day, which was lentil with a good squeeze of lemon, but friends told me I’d be even more wowed on a day when it’s pumpkin.

It was followed by meze-style dishes including carrot dip with nigella, baba ghanoush, falafel and patatas bravas. At a time when my regular suppliers of chickpeas are all out of stock, and even one of the restaurants I frequent for a hummus hit has taken it off the menu because they can’t source the ingredients, Nuki has found some magical supply and produced another wonderful dip with that.

Where possible, ingredients are locally-sourced, including excellent local fruit juice and wine. You can even taste the food and drink properly because, as the final touch to its impeccable credentials, this is a no-smoking restaurant.

It’s not all hairshirts and sandals though – it’s a cool, modern setting for jazz music on the stereo and funky photographs (also local produce – Vigan’s work) on the walls. If anything is going to tempt you to turn all or part of your diet vegetarian, then this is the place to do it.

There are some reasons even more convincing than Nuki’s hummus though. As well as your own health, and the arguments of animal cruelty, particularly in the context of factory farming, how about the fact that across the world livestock are responsible for more greenhouse gases than all the forms of transport put together (the impacts are as a result of feed production and land use as well as the methane produced from animals during their lives). It takes, on average, 28 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of meat protein for human consumption, whereas it takes only 3.3 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of protein from grain for human consumption.

Meat farming has an impact on precious water resources too - it takes 550 litres of water to produce enough flour for one loaf of bread (Nuki’s bread, by the way, comes in excellent crusty ciabatta- style loaves) but 7,000 litres of water to produce 100 grams of beef.

Not everyone feels able to lose meat entirely from their diet, but how about having a certain number of meat-free days a week? I’d suggest you celebrate them by going down to Nuki’s restaurant.

Elizabeth Gowing is a founder of The Ideas Partnership, a Kosovan NGO working on educational, cultural and environmental projects. She is also the author of Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo and The Little Book of Honey. She can be reached on theideaspartnership@ gmail.com

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