The singular is bourekas, but these bite-sized flaky pastries are so tasty that it is almost impossible to eat just one. The plural, by the way, is bourekasim. But for most of us, it's one bourekas, two bourekas and so on. It's a good thing that they are cheaper by the dozen.
In the realm of snackdom, bourekas are small and flaky, almost dainty. They might be thought of as an aristocratic turnover. They are stuffed and baked covered with sesame seeds. The pastry should be as crunchy and rich as a mille-feuille, but salty rather than sweet. While the fillings can be almost anything, the most common are cheese, tuna, mushroom, spinach or potatoes.
Bourekas are common Sephardic cooking. Sephardim are Jews who hail from the Mediterranean basin and Arab lands. Many in Montreal's Jewish community came here from Israel or Morocco.
Pastries similar to bourekas are common to many countries in the same part of the world. In Armenian cooking, they are called beoregs and the fillings can savoury or sweet. In Turkey, according to Claudia Roden, who has written standard reference works on both Jewish and Middle Eastern cooking, boerek means pie while börek means a cigar. They are often sold as pies, but equally, you can find them made from thin, sheets of pastry, rolled to look like a cigar, and filled with minced meat or grated cheese.
The bourekas sold in Jewish grocery stores and bakeries resemble small empañadas. Traditionally they are shaped into half moons, but here it is common to see them in several smaller sizes such as rectangles and tubes since their shape is the easiest for the sales clerk to know what is inside.
Many stores sell bourekas but it is worthwhile to go to a place that bakes them. Adar is Montreal's leading Sephardic bakery. There are usually a half dozen freshly made varieties available including a mildly peppery "spicy tuna." Adar is in a strip mall at 5458 Westminster near Côte St. Luc road (phone: 514-484-1189). Kosher Quality Delicatessen, at 5855 Victoria Avenue (phone: 514-731-7883) also has several kinds of bourekas. Neither store is open on Friday evenings or Saturday.
|© Barry Lazar 2002