Best Bourekas in Israel

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The food-culture diversity in Israel was born from the influx of immigrants from around the world. And because of this, certain foods have become “Israeli” dishes. It doesn’t mean that we now own these dishes like some would have you believe, but we have grown to love them just like their countrymen who brought their beloved recipes with them. Everyone likes to bring the flavours of home with them where ever they may roam.

Turkish and Balkan Jews who came to Israel in the 1940s and 1950s brought their country’s rich Ottoman recipes of long ago. One of these popular foods is the bureka (in Israel), börek (in Turkey), and byurek (in Bulgaria).In Israel, bourekas are typically served with a hard-boiled egg, a Jewish idea that has now become an Israeli custom. In Jewish communities, such as in Turkey, Bulgaria and Iraq, bourekas were served for a late breakfast on Shabbat, when the men returned from prayer in the synagogue, and the hard-boiled eggs that had been cooked in a slow oven, below the hamin, were a natural accompaniment. Sometimes the larger bourekas are split in half and filled with a little salad and a hard-boiled egg.

These flaky pastries were invented in Central Asia by nomadic Turks and became a popular element of Ottoman cuisine.

According to Ayla Algar’s book, Classical Turkish Cooking:

Börek was an established part of Ottoman cuisine by the time of the conquest of Istanbul in 1453. At least two varieties of it were prepared for Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. The position of chief börek maker in the palace kitchens was always an important one. Numerous apprentices labored under his watchful eye rolling out the dough on huge marble slabs. Evliya Çelebi (1611-1682), a Turkish traveler who journeyed through the territory of the Ottoman Empire and neighboring lands over a period of forty years, tells us that Istanbul in his time had no fewer than 4,000 börek shops — interestingly enough, a figure four times higher than he gives for baker’s shops.

Here are some of the best bourekas shops in Israel. Is your favorite one of these or do you have another favorite?

Leon and Son

Julie Cohen and her family came from Bulgaria in 1948 and set up a phyllo production to make a living. They were the first and only people who did this in Jaffo. They used to stretch the phyllo on their beds. People would come from all over Israel to buy their phyllo and people still flock to their store for their delicious pastries. Leon, her son, joined the business, and then Leon’s son’s Avi and Eli.

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Leon and Son’s Turkish Bourekas shop in Jaffo sells a variety of Turkish and Balkan savory and sweet treats. Make sure you try a selection of their bourekas. Take home their baklava which is not too sweet, and the long pastries filled with sweet cheese and raisins. The truth is, you will have a hard time walking out without buying everything. And for the skilled baker, you can buy fresh phyllo and kadaief to make your own treats.

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Leon and Sons Bourekas
17 Olei Tzion Street, Jaffo
(03) 683-3123

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Moshe Pinchas is a third generation Turkish-Israeli who follows a tradition set by his maternal grandfather, who sold bourekas in Istanbul. In Yehud, a town southeast of Tel Aviv with many Turkish immigrants, he doesn’t do the baking himself, but has two Turkish bakers who come in early every morning: one of them, master baker Mehmet Kazelrak, has been doing it nearly all of his life after leaving school at the age of eight to apprentice with a master baker in city of Urfa, in southeastern Anatolia, famous for the birthplace of Abraham.

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Turkish Delicacies is a meat and dairy shop that makes bourekas stuffed with cheese, potato, and spinach and also make Turkish water börek (su böreği), which is stuffed with spinach or cheese.

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Make sure you try the Anatolian pide, which is shaped like a torpedo and stuffed with cheese, spinach and topped with an egg that is “soft-cooked” when it bakes.

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They also make lahmacun (pronounced lahmajoun), a flat pide that is covered with a spicy lamb filling, Anatolian pide stuffed with lamb filling, and pide stuffed with vegetables. Don’t leave here without trying at least one pide and one boureka, and be sure to take home several pieces of kadaief stuffed with walnuts.

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Turkish Delicacies
10 Zvi Yishai Street, Yehud

Photo by Sarah Melamed

The small stand of the Original Turkish Bourekas is in the heart of the Ramle market. Haim Kulo’s father, who immigrated from Istanbul, started selling these flaky and mouthwatering delicious pastries in 1957. Today the third generation is proudly selling their bourekas. The “original” also has branches in Ramat Gan and Jerusalem, but the original wagon and the old-fashioned lemonade siphon make those bourekas taste that much better.

Photo by Sarah Melamed

Original Turkish Bourekas
3 Jabotinsky Street, Ramle
(08) 925-5911

In a neglected municipal market built in the 1950s, is a boureka shop that is hidden in an alley behind a blue tarp. You would never imagine that you would find some of the best spinach bourekas in Israel among the crumbling buildings. The Hazan family uses an heirloom spinach called Galilee spinach (sbanach) to make these delicious treats. Sbanach, which you can buy at the shuk, are vibrant green leaves that make an appealing and flavorful addition to salads, and hold up well when cooked. Be sure to try the bourekas with an eggplant filling that is slow-cooked instead of being grilled.

Hazan Bourekas
Ashkenazi Market, Ashkenazi Street, Yehud
A few doors down from the fruit and vegetable stand. Look for the blue tarp.
(03) 536-1649

Trains and Balkan Water Börek

I used to love to go to the train station in my hometown. My father would take us there every once in a while to see the trains and we would always try to get there early so he could put a penny on the rails and have the train run over them. As soon as the train was safely out of harm’s way, he would retrieve the misshapen pennies for us to take home as souvenirs of our adventure.

So when I found out that the Tel Aviv municipality had painstakingly renovated an Ottoman-era train station, now unoriginally called HaTahana (The Station) near Neve Tzedek, I couldn’t wait to go and see it. And I must say, they did a beautiful job with the restoration.

The train station was inaugurated in 1892 and was the first railway line in the Middle East. The rail line went from Jaffa to Jerusalem and the length of the journey took 3-1/2 to 4 hours. The line was eventually extended to Lod and Haifa, and in 1921 the train travelled to Al Qantarah El Sharqiyya, Egypt, approximately 160km (100 miles) from Cairo. The station was closed in 1948 and only reopened as an entertainment complex this year.

There are several restaurants and cafes to choose from to sit and have a leisurely coffee with your favorite someone, such as Cafe Tahana in the original railway building.

Or sit on the roof of Shushkashvilli Beer Bar and Tapas, which is in a beautiful old Arab house that stood in the neighborhood called Manshiya, built by the Turks in 1892 to house Egyptian laborers working on the new railroad.

The Wieland Villa, built in 1902, was owned by a German Templar named Hugo Wieland, who built his home and a factory building and agricultural materials next to the railway station with the intention of shipping the goods throughout what was then Palestine and around the Middle East. The family remained in the house until the 1930s when they left and eventually moved to Australia.

HaTahana also has some lovely boutiques and art galleries in the surrounding stone buildings that will appeal to all sorts of shoppers.

The train tracks are quiet now, but HaTahana is abustle with people enjoying the lovely cafes, restaurants, art exhibitions every Thursday evening, and the real reason Mr BT and I got up early to go there: the Orbanic market, which is the new organic farmers market, open only on Fridays.

After visiting the old Ottoman station, I was inspired to make a Water Börek, which is a cheese or meat bureka, made with boiled warka leaves. Instead of going to all the trouble of making my own warka, I bought Moroccan cigar wrappers at the supermarket. Since most of my readers in the US and Europe will not be able to find cigar wrappers so easily, you can use egg roll wrappers. You can serve this for breakfast, afternoon tea, or a light supper with a big salad.

Water Börek - Su Böregi

Serving Size: 6 to 8

1 pkg (500g or 1lb) Moroccan cigar wrappers (thawed) or large egg roll wrappers

100g butter, melted or 1/4 cup olive oil

250g (1/2lb) Bulgarian or Greek Feta

1 log of plain goat's cheese

1 egg

1 cup fresh parsley or 1/2 cup parsley and 1/2 cup dill, chopped

2 green onions, sliced thinly

Several grinds of black pepper

Butter a 22cm (9 inch) deep-dish pan.

Mash the feta and goat's cheese together until well combined. Add the egg, parsley, green onion and black pepper and mix well. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F).

In a large pot of boiling water, place one cigar sheet or egg roll wrapper in the pot and cook for 1-2 minutes. Scoop out the sheet with a wire mesh skimmer and place in the pan. Don't worry if you can't straighten the sheets out, just try to smooth a few out so they will go up the sides of the pan. Repeat until you have one layer of the sheets.

Brush butter or olive oil on the sheets and cover with half of the cheese mixture. Place another layer of boiled cigar sheets, brush them with butter, and add the rest of the cheese mixture. Place a final layer of cigar sheets, fold over any sheets that are hanging off the side of the baking dish, and brush with butter. Bake for 1 hour or until lightly brown. Serve hot or a room temperature.

Mina de Maza

I hope everyone that had or went to a seder last night enjoyed themselves. My macaroons and Mr. BT’s haroset were a hit at our family seder. Tonight I made matza balls and a Sephardic meat pie that is found in Egyptian, Turkish, Balkan, and Italian Jewish homes. One of my colleagues suggested that I make a Mina for Passover. I had never heard of it and when he sent me the recipe I knew I had to try it. It is not difficult to make and I made it this evening, but you can make it ahead and heat in the oven before serving.

I slightly adapted a recipe from Janna Gur’s  The Book of New Israeli Food. It called for pine nuts, which I love, but they were 30NIS/8USD for 100 grams (3.5 ounces) at the supermarket and I couldn’t bring myself to pay that much for them. Frankly, I have never seen them priced so high. I also wanted to make it with ground lamb, but at 169NIS/46USD a kilo (2lbs), I told the butcher “thanks, but no thanks”.

I added walnuts in place of the pine nuts and ground veal in place of the lamb. It was still delicious and I think I prefer the walnuts in this dish. I will definitely make this next Passover.

Mina de Maza - Matza Pie

Serving Size: 8


8-10 matzas

1/2 cup olive oil, for brushing


4 tablespoons oil

2-3 medium onions, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

700g (1-1/2lbs) ground beef or lamb

Salt and pepper

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon allspice

4 eggs

1-2 medium new or white potatoes, cooked and mashed

1/2 cup chopped walnuts, roasted

1/2 cup fresh parsley

3/4 cup chicken stock

Soaked Matza

Dip the matzas in a bowl of cold water for a minute. Wrap the matzas in a moistened kitchen towel and leave for 10-15 minutes.

Fry the onions in the oil until they are golden. Add the garlic and the meat and continue to cook until the meat is cooked through. Add the salt, pepper, cinnamon and allspice and remove the pan from the burner. Cool slightly, and add the eggs, mashed potatoes, walnuts and parsley. Mix well.

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F).

Mina de Maza

Grease a 24cm/12inch diameter round baking dish. Brush the wet matzas on both sides with a little olive oil and arrange 4 or 5 on the bottom, draping enough over the sides to later cover the filling. Spoon half of the meat mixture into the baking dish and flatten. Cover with a layer of matzas and top with the remaining half of the meat. Fold the matza draped over the side of the dish to cover the filling and brush with oil.

Mina de Maza

Place an additional matzo on top and brush with oil, too. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven, ladle the soup over the pie, and return to the oven for another 5 minutes. Cool slightly and invert on a plate before serving.

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