Burek<—-Borek [Turkish] [Albanian- byrek; Greek- “Boureki”; Hebrew-“Burekas”]
Something that we definitively can’t leave unaddressed; food. And in the region known as the Balkans, it is impossible to forget burek. (and the various pita-which translates as pie) Burek (and pita) is the fast food of this region, and is simply assumed to be found at every wedding and other major celebrations. This delicacy varies in taste and presentation throughout the region, but I will touch on just Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia.
BiH: In general, the dough of burek (in this country, jufka) is like that of phyllo pastry and is filled with meat. [can be ground beef (minced) or chopped, sometimes it is pork and sometimes the meat is mixed with potato and garlic] Whereas, pita is simply a version of burek without meat and instead filled with either spinach, cheese, potato and sometimes even pumpkin and/or butternut squash. And each one has their own name based on their filling: zeljanica, sirnica, krompirača/krumpiruša, tikvenica. (matching order of that given above) These delicacies are found at every pekara (bakery), but for sure are much more greasy/oily (and sometimes burnt) than if you were to have it homemade. There are also places called buregdžince which sell exclusively burek and pita.
You would mix the ingredients for the dough, let it rise and knead it and then the most artful part of the process is when you roll out the dough. For this, a large working surface is needed and should be covered with a thick cloth of some kind that you don’t mind getting messy. Slowly and carefully roll out the dough until is it spread thin and almost covers your entire working surface. It is a very tricky task and the women who do it well are usually considered, sometimes jokingly, to be excellent wives/marriage material in this region. After the dough is spread thin, you would take your prepared filling and spread it out across the dough. And then you have to roll up the dough in a certain way so that in the end the pita/burek will be in the shape of a spiral. Rolling up the dough just right is also very tricky and can easily fall apart if you are not careful. You will want the dough to be rolled halfway from each side and by using the cloth you now have under your dough you can easily do just that. Once the dough is rolled up like a scroll, you can slowly shape the dough into a spiral. [Here is a video so you can see you how it is done: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCrOokfvd68 …..It is quite tricky to explain and sometimes better to actually see the process]
They usually ask if you would like “drinking yogurt” with it on the side, but if they don’t ask for it to give it a try. You can dip your pita or just drink the plain yogurt by itself. For you Americans, this is a type of yogurt you may be unfamiliar with for it is not flavored and it is not the thick, “eat with a spoon” kind. Our “American” sugared flavored yogurts are available here in the region to buy in the store, but the plain drinking yogurt is more commonly used.
Croatia: Bosnia-Herzegovina’s neighbor to the west and north consider burek and pita to be the same and only differ by their filling. Burek is not just the one filled with meat. You would order “pita with spinach,” “pita with potato,” or “pita with meat,” etc. But when it is with cheese, it is burek, or “pita with cheese.” And the burek craze didn’t really start in Croatia until after WWII when some well-known Albanian bakers started to sell it at a place near the Zagreb train station. The burek/pita found throughout Croatia is commonly presented as a layered form and not a wrapped up spiral. This circular layered version is cut into fours and served by the “slice.” And because of the different presentation, it is therefore prepared differently (but basically the same ingredients).
Serbia: Neighbors to the east make and present burek more or less the same as that which is found in Croatia. Its presence started in Serbia (of these three countries, Croatia, BiH, Serbia) and worked its way west. Here burek is not exclusively with meat and you have to specify the filling when ordering. Because there is a different way for making this burek, here is a different video. [method also found in Croatia] (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILH2cQm6bUE (The filling used in this video is cheese)
Origin/History: Burek came to the Balkans during the Ottoman Empire, brought by the Turks. The Turkish word, borek refers to meals made of dough. It is also thought that the word burek could have formed from the Turkish word, bur which means to fold. Albanian, Greek, and Hebrew words are similar, but it is believed the delicacy started in the Turkish kitchen. The first burek that appeared in the region of former Yugoslavia was in Niš, a city in present day Serbia. The traditional recipe was developed there in 1498 by a well known Turkish baker, Mehmed Oglu from Istanbul. Every year in Niš there is a burek competition and in 2005 it is said they made the largest burek ever made in the world; 100 kilograms cooked in a 2 meter brick oven.
These are the main sources that I used, along with personal experience and conversations with local people. Websites are in the local language.