Give Trans (Fat) a Chance – The Story of Burekas in Bulgarian Jaffa
If you know the first thing about Israeli food culture, you might know what Burekas is. That flaky and delicious stuffed pastry is the “food of the commoners”, but don’t let it’s basic concept fool you. Even though Cardiologists and posh foodies might not admit might disapprove, it is hard to deny the fact that when done right Burekas is food made for Gods. And no one does it better than Jaffa’s Bulgarian community.
Identifying Burekas with Bulgaria is charged; especially for the debated origins of Burekas – the Turkish and Greek people. It seems like the King of Pastries was, indeed, brought to the world by the Turks. The Ottoman Empire did at least one thing right: bringing stunning Turkish cuisine to any place onto which they set foot. Once it left the borders of Constantinople, Burekas was spread all over – and especially around the Balkan area, opening a great debate about who has the best Burekas.
But we’re talking about Israeli Burekas, and the Israeli Burekas was definitely created by the Bulgarian community that came here in the 40s and 50s. Specifically, we can talk about three Bulgarian families that made that food what it is today. In Haifa, the Bachar Family started chain of amazing Burekas stores ״The Wagon (Ha’agala) Burekas)”, named after the famous wagon on which the family’s patriarch sold pastries. Further south along the Israeli coastline in Jaffa, the families of Alkolombry and Cohen began their stories. The first is Israel’s most famous “Sami Burekas,” the puff-pastry empire that rose in a storm and fell in silence (a beautiful documentary, “The King of Börek”, was made on that matter). The latter had a smaller operation going on, but in an uncompromised quality. That might be the reason why the Cohen’s “Burekas Leon” is still active more than 60 years after it started, held by a group of fans that won’t ever eat Burekas anywhere else.
Burekas in Jaffa, and especially on Jerusalem Boulevard, is not just another kind of food: it is the culinary keystone. The boulevard has one Malabi (delicious), three butcheries, and one or two “real” restaurants. There are so many Burekas shops that today some of the Burekas are made and owned by Arab families. When you make food with so much love and dedication, everybody wants to grab a bite of it. Literally.
So here we are, seventy years later. Only a tiny part is left from the Balkan community of South Tel-Aviv’s neighborhoods, spread from Jaffa through Florentin and until HaTikvah. The Greek have settled around Levinsky Market, the Turkish moved to Bat-Yam. Only Jerusalem Boulevard remains a living monument to the great Bulgarian people of Jaffa; it is a tribute to the cultures and traditions they brought over, and to the extraordinary food that those people, so proud of what they do, have introduced to us. And what can we say? Even if it’s not exactly what your doctor recommended, there’s nothing tastier than a Burekas fresh from the oven.