Burek: stories from Croatia, Turkey, and my English kitchen

I’ve always loved burek. It was my favourite lunch treat at school. I used to have cheese burek with plain, and my best friend with strawberry yoghurt. We’d sit in the parks near our school and look at the sea. Surprised that a kid from Croatia lunches on what is by all accounts a Middle Eastern treat? Don’t be. Burek is firmly part of the eating tradition in the countries of the former Yugoslavia, a legacy of the Ottoman Empire. DSC_6413

DSC_6408   If you are yet to be introduced to this deliciousness, burek is layers of thin thin pastry, filo-like but somewhat thicker, stuffed with a variety of fillings. Cheese, meat, spinach, potatoes – these are just some of the examples. In our parts, there is even a sweet version stuffed with grated apples, probably a playful offspring of the Ottoman burek and the Central European apple strudel. To a Croatian, a burek is any of the afore-mentioned; to a Bosnian, burek is only the one made with meat, all others are simply pies (pite, or pita singular). Here bureks normally come in coils, or layered in trays (tepsije – probably from the Turkish tepsi). In Turkey, burek or börek comes in all shapes (cigars, triangles, coils, envelopes, layered larger pies, etc.), and is both baked and boiled. It is made with the thin yufka dough, or even with puff pastry.

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Delicious notes from Istanbul

Simits!

Pastry seller in Istanbul

The first time we went to Istanbul, we did it all wrong, committed all the classic tourist mistakes. We stayed in a middle of a tourist trap, did no research before the trip, relied on unreliable guidebooks. In our brief defence, the trip was a bit of a last minute decision, but still, I’m not proud. We enjoyed the sights, but found that above all we wanted to be in the more interesting parts of the city, and spent a lot of time outside Sultanhamet. We loved Üsküdar most. Overall, we had a reasonably good time, but got hassled in touristy places and were above all somewhat disappointed with the food we found. We thought the food would be better, easier to find. It’s rarely like that, though, of course.

This time, I did it all right. I did the research, choose accommodation strategically, and took time to explore the areas I that grabbed my attention when they did. I had a fantastic time. Istanbul turned out to be one of those cities where you need to dig below the surface to discover its true charms. It’s not surprising though, given its tourist appeal; I’m embarrassed at our past naivety.

Here are a few of my delicious notes from my September trip to Istanbul. With thanks to these excellent sources of information and inspiration: Delicious Istanbul, Eating Asia and Istanbul Eats.

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