A Turkish Food Primer: Börek and Beyond

What is a börek? Put simply, it is a savory pie: a filling, usually of cheese or meat, is sandwiched between sheets of thinly rolled-out dough. It is baked, or pan-fried, or deep-fried, which allows the ingredients to combine in a delectable marriage as the filling melts, blending to a creamy consistency inside a crisp casing of pastry.

“Simply Sensational”, Berrin Torolsan. p. 346. Istanbul: The Collected Traveler: An Inspired Companion Guide. Ed., Kerper, Barrie.

I couldn’t really have described it any better. Some mornings we’d smell the rich scent of börek wafting down the alleys and we had to find our way to the nearest börekçi (shop that specializes in making börek) and fill up on an entire bag’s worth of them. They’re best when freshly made – when you bite into them, there’s a crisp airiness that I still dream about. I was especially fond of the cheese and spinach ones, but there were plenty of other fillings like ground lamb or potatoes or straight cheese. They’re made from yufka, thin unleavened sheets of dough similar to phyllo, so their shapes and sizes could vary widely. We saw cigar shaped ones, puffy ones, triangle ones – each börekçi had its own specialties.

In Eskesehir we were quite lucky to try çiborek, a variant on börek that apparently came from the nomads in Central Asia. They seem like a cross between a flaky pastry and a dumpling, filled with minced beef and onions, and comes burning hot out of the fryer. When we bit into it, meaty-fragrant juice leaked out and scalded our tongues but at the same time we couldn’t eat them fast enough because they just tasted so good.

çibörek – eating nine of these is considered a normal portion!

Another savory bread-based snack that we encountered was gözleme. It’s a thin dough that’s rolled out by hand and cooked on a saç, a convex shaped griddle/oven with a flame underneath. Yufka is also traditionally made on a saç, but yufka is much thinner while the gözleme dough is more the consistency and thickness of lavash.

woman making gözleme by hand

Once the dough is almost done cooking, fillings such as cheese and spinach are placed in the center and the dough is folded up to contain the filling. By far the best one we had was at Bugday‘s organic market in Istanbul on Saturdays, as it was made freshly by hand. We found gözleme at every café in every bus station and town we visited, but often they had been sitting there for hours and were rather soggy. So we recommend a trip out there to try some.


Bugday organic market
in its 4th year!
Sisli neighborhood, Bomonti, close to old Tekel Beer factory


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