Archives for October 2015

Adventures in Street Eats: Burek in the Balkans

From the very first time I ate Burek – a usually savory and almost always flaky stuffed pastry prominent in the Balkans – it has been hands down one of my favorite street snacks anywhere. I’ve been putting down these palette-pleasing pillows on the streets of the region for nearly a decade now, and while most transactions have been of the simple ‘I give you the money, you hand over the burek, and nobody gets hurt’ variety, there’s a few of them I’ll never forget.

burek in the balkans

Love at First Bite

My first taste of burek came on the island of Hvar in Croatia. After a long night observing local social customs at the island’s harbor side taverns, I defied oddsmakers and naysayers by waking up early and with plenty of time to spare in order to catch the ferry back to the mainland. I staggered into a local bakery looking for a handheld breakfast to-go and immediately started scanning the shelves, but saw nothing but light, frilly and sickly sweet pastries staring back at me.

Being from a land where a sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit qualifies as a ‘light start’, I was more than a bit dismayed.

But then something caught my eye: it was golden brown, round, and – how shall I put this politely? – of the greasy variety. I took this as a tell-tale sign that something special was stuffed inside, so I made awkward eye contact with the baker on duty and proceeded to place my order. In my best Croatian – which as it turns out is English – asked “What is inside?” and was told “Meat”. What kind of meat? That was neither here nor there. I held up my index finger to indicate that I wanted one, paid for the pastry and then ran outside with a wax paper bag that was getting soaked by the second.

The combination of the soft and buttery pastry encasing lightly seasoned, crumbled meat was pure magic. With every bite, I fell more head over heels for this pastry and savored every nibble on the boat ride back to the mainland.

Pizza Burek Ljubljana

Pizza and Burek? Together? Have You Gone Mad? 

A few years later I found myself in Ljubljana, which in addition to being a spelling bee contestant’s dream is the enchanting capital of Slovenia. A mad-scientist burek baker here had managed to mix burek and pizza into something called – you guessed it – Pizza Burek. I’m not sure if its creation happened by accident, but this gooey Frankenstein-like concoction had become famous in the city by the time I arrived, and I simply had to give it a try.

I was not disappointed. The Pizza Burek took on a much less flaky texture than traditional burek, with cheese and tomato sauce added to the mix, and the end result resembling a true guilty pleasure. Pizza Burek is not for the faint of heart or those who adhere to something called a ‘healthy lifestyle’, but for the rest of us, it’s bliss. There are a few competing spots in Ljubljana that serve up this freakishly good treat (the place pictured above and the famous Nobel Burek), and you can’t really go wrong with any of them.

Sarajevo burek Belgrade

Burek by the Gram in Belgrade

While spending a few weeks experiencing the best that Belgrade, Serbia had to offer us, we found ourselves searching for lunch inspiration on numerous occasions. Being on a budget at the time, we found our way to a burek palace named Sarajevo. Sarajevo specialized in long-spiraled burek that were drier and flakier than previous versions, but full of even more flavor. Sarajevo allegedly uses a coal oven to give their burek its special flavor, and since they charge by the gram and Belgrade is already a budget-traveller’s dream, you can fill up on burek for lunch for only a couple bucks.

 

This post originally appeared on TravelPulse

Here’s A Few Reasons You Should Go to Amasya, Turkey

Amasya Turkey

While many fly into Turkey dead set on seeing only Istanbul and its ‘East meets, shakes hands with, and then fists bumps with West’ vibe, those in the know realize that Istanbul is just the tip of the iceberg of Turkey’s wonders. One of these wonders is located a distant – yet surprisingly comfortable – bus ride or flight to the east from Istanbul, and it’s called Amasya.

Here are nearly a half-dozen reasons why you should go out of your way to include Amasya in your next Turkish trip:

1. Stunning Setting

Point blank, Amasya, Turkey has one of the most dramatic settings I have ever seen, anywhere in the world. The town is cradled within a steep mountain valley, straddling the flowing Yeşilırmak River. On one side of the water, you will find dozens of classical Ottoman buildings accentuated with dark brown wood and ivory contrasts jutting out over the water. Above them, sharp cliffs home to a castle and ancient tombs create a breathtaking backdrop. The other side of the river is more modern, but still full of character, with a riverwalk full of bronze statues of famous folks from the town’s history and kitschy paddleboat restaurants selling tasty grilled “river fish” sandwiches.

2. The Legend of Ferhat and Shirin

The Turkish version of Romeo and Juliet was set in Amasya, and while it’s definitely just a myth, it’s a tragically cute one. Legend has it that Fehrat and Shirin fell madly in love, but Shirin’s family was having nothing of it. They told Fehrat that the only way he could marry their Shirin is if he dug a hole through the mountains of Amasya with his hammer. He diligently began his work, but then after months of toiling was told a lie one day that Shirin had killed herself. You can probably figure out what happened next, but if not, the statues of the lovelorn couple atop the mountain and along the riverside will fill you in on the fairy tale

Amasya Turkey

3. Half Price Hamams

Soaking in steam and getting rubbed down and exfoliated by a complete stranger at a hamam (Turkish bath) is a quintessential experience while in Turkey. Hamams are a huge part of Turkish tradition and Amasya is a great place to take in this cleansing experience, with a much lower price tag than you would in bigger cities like Ankara or Istanbul. I visited the Kumacik Hamam alongside the river, and they took good care of me and my skin – so be sure tell them I sent you.

4. The Apples

Yes, you read that right, the apples. The surrounding hills of Amasya, Turkey have long been known as fertile ground for apples, and the apples here are bold, red in color, and delicious. They are such a signature of the region that when we checked into our hotel, there was a basket of apples waiting for us.

Amasya Turkey

Trust me, there’s a bowl full of apples just off camera

5. The People

While friendly locals abound in towns over the globe, the niceties we received in Amasya really took the cake, or the pizza as it were. An example: searching for a small respite from Turkish food after nearly two months in the country, we stumbled into a certain international pizza chain one evening craving some cheesy familiar delicacies. I won’t mention the international pizza chain by name, (it rhymed with tom-in-hose), but the friendliness and smiles we received by the staff there were so over-the-top I was compelled to write an e-mail to the corporate office. But here’s the thing: it was just normal for Amasya. All over town we were treated so well and offered help that we were constantly left awestruck. The free dipping sauces were just the icing on the pizza.

 

This post originally appeared on TravelPulse