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

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