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Happy International Burek Day – a look back at a slice of history

International Burek Day is marked (Photo: Burek at Taj Mahal – Dubrovnik  credit: Katija Živković)

To mark International Burek Day, a look back at Tamara Gamulin’s ‘slice of history’ of what has become Croatia’s adopted national Street Food.

If you do a quick internet search on the subject of the very popular dish called burek, you might get surprised how controversial the question gets of what can be called burek since people in Bosnia are convinced that only burek with meat is a ‘true burek’ and everything else are just pies.

Another controversy around burek has to do with national borders and the question who’s dish is it – Bosnian, Croatian or Serbian, but this question has little to do with common sense since burek originates from the time of the Ottoman Empire and it spread around Europe and Asia as did the Ottomans, long before there were national borders as we know them today.

Ottomans are ancient history now but burek is still alive and well being the most popular street food today in Croatia and the Balkans.

In general, burek is a family of baked filled pastries made of thin flaky dough known as phyllo (or jufka) of Anatolian origins and also found in the cuisines of the Balkans, Levant, Mediterranean, and other countries in Eastern Europe and Western Asia.

Börek in the Turkish language refers to any dish made with jufka and the name comes from bur, which means to twist and it is usually eaten with yogurt.

The shape changes throughout the Balkans, from a round pie shape that has layers of dough and filling, to long, rolled versions that are coiled up into a circle.

Taj Mahal – Dubrovnik (Photo credit: Katija Živković)

Like in Turkey where any dish made with filled jufka is called burek, in Croatia and Serbia it is the same – but only in Bosnia jufka’s filled with meat can be called burek and the rest of the fillings (cheese, spinach, pumpkin) are called pita (pie).

I’ve spent some time in Bosnia and witnessed a lot of angry discussions about how only burek with meat is burek and everything else is just PITA and how people in neighbouring countries got this all wrong. I also come from Šibenik in Croatia, the town where people love to eat what they call burek with apples. Not pie, not strudel but burek.

Burek in Dolac, Zagreb

So now we know the impossible – not only burek can be filled with something that is not meat but it also can be sweet. Even famous Apfelstrudl is considered to have origins in burek from the time Ottomans tried to conquer Wien.

They never made it but seems like burek got attached as some kind of their amanet (legacy) in this part of the world.

So, let’s get back to the beginning and face the truth about his majesty burek – this delicious dish knows no national borders no matter how you call it. 

While writing this text, I did a little survey and asked my Bosnian friends what is the first thing they can think of when somebody says “burek with cheese”. Most of them said: It just sounds so wrong. Does it really?

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