It is 5am in Istanbul and the sun has just started to illuminate the street I am walking on. It is too early to find an open bakery in Kadıköy’s harbour and I’m too tired so there is no chance of me waiting for one to open. I’m dreaming of food but there doesn’t seem to be any opportunity of eating soon, which makes the world a bit of a darker place for me. . Still, I hope that something good can happen because it is Istanbul, the city where amazing things happen. Eventually, Istanbul doesn’t disappoint me. A food seller appears on the street and shouts something which I don’t understand as I don’t know Turkish at that moment. Yet, I see he carries something which is full of food. Now, there’re two possibilities; I go home and sleep with my empty stomach or I would try the food which this tiny Turkish man sells. As you can expect, I choose the second option and approach him full of excitement. What a great surprise that he sells something hot, sweet, and something without meat! Above all, a really big portion is only 4TL. What could be better for a hungry vegetarian! It was simply fabulous! What he was selling was “börek” and from then on it has been one of my favourite Turkish foods!
Börek is a common Turkish term for filled pastries. It is simply delicious food and a great option for vegetarians. For the Turks it is breakfast with tea, lunch with ayran, meze for dinner, and always a snack anytime during the day. In other words börek is a frequently eaten food in daily Turkish life. Actually, it can be found all over the areas of the Ottoman Empire including Middle Eastern and Balkan countries. Some people link the invention of börek to the Ottomans, some to Bugra Khan, a ruler of Eastern Turkistan, and some link it to the Persians. I guess the best to indicate its popularity is to say that “börek” dominates the Turco-Iranian cuisine of Western Asia. It is in fact so that börek really took form during the Ottoman Empire. Consider that the most prominent börek baker held one of the most important positions in the Ottoman imperial household. Since then, it has been an invariant part of traditional Turkish cuisine.
Depending on where you are and who is the cooker, börek may come in many different shapes such as bundles, rolls, rounds, squares, etc. and different fillings such as eggplant, ground meat, potato, spinach, and a variety of cheeses. What they have in common is that authentic börek is made from yufka, exotic and very thin dough made from wheat flour, water and salt. Now you may think that making yufka is something easy to do but that’s completely wrong. To be honest, it’s an art in itself which has need for great skill as well as patience. As it is not a work for everybody, a great number of Turkish women buy it from the “yufkacı” (yufka shop).
The skills of börek making are usually handed down from generation to generation and authentic börek making is really a fantastic process. I had the possibility to make börek with a local woman and as I’m from Italy it was quite an exotic experience. To me, after passing the most difficult part, which is making yufka, it’s just fun and actually so easy to do! As it usually happens someone should declare the intension of börek making to start the work. The relatives and friends are invited to the place where the börek making event takes place which can be a house, garden or garage. The most important person, or let’s say the boss in this börek making group, is the one who can roll oklava, a wooden rolling pin, delicately. After the dough is ready, it is left to sit for between 45 minutes to an hour which is the time for Turkish coffee and gossip. After that the boss sits on the floor, divides the dough into small pieces, and shapes them into little rounds which is not bigger than a tennis ball. Then, she places the dough on the table, takes up the wooden oklava, and rolls out the small flat piece of dough until it is approximately 60cm in diameter. After the sheets are ready, they need to be filled with anything you want; eggplant, ground meat, potato, spinach, and cheese. Since then the only thing to do is to bake or to fry. Turkish people use “saç”, a round shaped hot iron plate, to bake yufka.
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Clinical psychologist, vocational trainer in psychology and traveller. I’m using my free time thinking, reading, painting, watching and hearing the sound of this world, always learning from different people. Florence is my city, Italy is my country, food is one of my biggest passions. Full of meaning, big pleasure for everybody and one of the main showcase of different culture and traditions.
Photo Credits: Pi István Tóth