Ottoman Empire street food as examined through the medium of hip hop
Any street food that has been covered by a best-selling hip hop artist is worth your attention. The rapper in question in this youtube clip is Slovenian and dropping rhymes about a savoury pastry remnant of the Ottoman Empire really does seal the deal for me. Norway can keep their Eurovision win.
Despite being narrowly versed in Slovenian food (or at least drinks in an archeological sense ), the pastry in question, borek, is part of the wider swathe of food that the Ottoman empire carved into Europe and the Middle East. The only benefit left in the wake of an empire is its food: there is generally no other living legacy that is lasting and not culinary.
Borek is made from a flaky pastry filled with a salty cheese and parsley or spinach; or minced lamb. Depending on the nation of origin, the pastry is arranged into flat layers in a circular pan or rolled into a long tube then spiralled onto a tray, then baked until golden. It fills the position that hamburgers occupy in Western food: combination street snack and late night, post booze stomach filler. Unlike hamburgers, it is perfectly acceptable to eat borek for breakfast without possessing any degree of hangover.
The completely unverified Wikipedia entry does its best to delineate the various former Ottoman nations burek by their method of cooking; a neat display how nations take the interlopers’ food and then change the recipe to make a dish inseparable from its own. It does however pose this conundrum:
The recipe for modern "round" burek was developed in the Serbian town Niš, where it was introduced by a famous Turkish baker, Mehmed Oglu, from Istanbul in 1498. Serbian burek became popular in Croatia and in Slovenia in the 2nd half of the 20th century.
So there’s been a pastry that has been in the region for 450 years but it wasn’t until the Second World War that it became popular in neighbouring parts of former Yugoslavia?
Needless to say, burek is delicious, a rare mix of chewy, savoury and persistent oiliness. You can smell it browning from a great distance. Once cooking has started, the dish is not easy to keep to yourself.
As for where to find your own borek, SBS’s list of Turkish restaurants would be a good place to start .
For recipes, this Turkish cookery book, a collection of receipts By Turâbî from 1862 was the earliest that I could uncover, hardly from the height of the Empire.