Turnovers make an appearance in the cuisines of many cultures, with each community having their own variation of this pastry. It seems there’s something about golden dough wrapped around a savory filling that attracts people and their appetites. A few of these include, empanadas from Latin America, calzones from Italy, samosas from India, sambusaks from Iraq, Cornish pasties from England, and Jamaican patties. The Jewish community has it’s own variations, with the most well known in North America being the knish. I was recently introduced to the boreka, which is, dare I say it, even more delicious than the knish.
Borekas are of Turkish origin and they have come to be through a process of combining cultures and culinary styles. Sephardim brought empanadas, (half-moon shaped turnovers), with them when they arrived in the Ottoman Empire following their expulsion from Spain. Upon settling in this new place, the Sephardim held onto their foodways and did not immediately adopt Turkish culinary habits. However, by the 18th century Sephardim living in Turkey and Greece had combined the Iberian empanada with the Turkish börek to which they added the Spanish feminine “a” ending, in turn creating one of the most beloved pastries of the Ottoman Jewish community. Borekas can be large or small and they are made with a dough that is slightly thicker than that of Turkish böreks. Traditional fillings for borekas include cheese, spinach, potato and eggplant, while mushroom and pizza are fillings that have recently become popular.
I’ve been consistently buying this delight from one particular restaurant because I know they make a solid boreka. However, I thought it was high time that I explore the other borekas this city has to offer. My search for borekas brought me to the following six places, all of which are kosher apart from Efes Pastry:
Patisserie Adar (5634 Westminster)
Chez Benny (5071 Queen Mary)
Pizza Pita (6415 Decarie)
Cite Cachere (4765 Van Horne)
Lipa’s Supermarket (5573 Parc Avenue)
Efes Pastry (689 rue Saint-Roch)
For those of us living in Mile End I realize that getting to this bakery is quite a trek, but the trip is definitely worth it. The borekas sold here were my favorite of those I sampled. These are small-sized borekas that can be eaten in a few bites, with four fillings to choose from: spicy tuna, tofu cheese, spinach and potato. Although the spinach and potato were good, my two favorites were the spicy tuna and the tofu cheese. The dough of these borekas is flaky, and thick enough to surround the filling without overwhelming it. The tuna is lightly spiced and not at all dry, as tuna can sometimes be, while the tofu cheese filling was creamy with a flavor similar to that of a mild cheese. These are a must try!
I’m going to put my biases out there right now, the first boreka I ever tasted was from Chez Benny and because of this their borekas hold a place in my heart (and stomach). However, despite the fond feelings I hold for these borekas, I think that this is the place to go to if you want a really good potato boreka. At Chez Benny, I recommend sticking to the classic boreka. Medium in size, their dough is extremely flaky and light, while the filling is smooth and perfectly seasoned with a hint of onion flavor.
Borekas are not listed on the menu above the cash when you walk into this restaurant, but just ask and you shall receive! There are three kinds of borekas sold here: potato, feta cheese with olives, and cheese. The dough of these borekas was slightly heavy, not as light and flaky as some of the others sampled, but their potato filling tasted like a delicious mix of potatoes and onions. Unfortunately, the cheese fillings left a funny aftertaste and I wouldn’t recommend them. This restaurant is open until 4am on Saturday nights, so if you happen to be in the area craving a boreka, I would recommend their potato one.
A place to buy fresh borekas that’s closer to home, the turnovers at this bakery are big and a steal at 2$ apiece. Spinach, cheese and meat borekas are available of which I sampled the first two. The dough of these borekas is light and extremely flaky, yet in my opinion there wasn’t enough filling for the amount of dough surrounding them. The cheese filling was creamy, but extremely mild, while the spinach filling could have used more seasoning to bring out its flavor. These borekas are definitely great value.
Although they sell prepared food and desserts at this kosher store, the borekas they sell are of the frozen variety from an Israeli company called Maadanot and the cheese filling was the only one available when I visited. After baking these for fifteen or twenty minutes, you’ll have borekas with dough that is flaky and golden surrounding a creamy cheese filling that can be topped with sesame seeds from the small bag included along with the pastries. These were surprisingly good for a frozen brand and I wouldn’t turn one of these down if they were offered to me.
They sell a few varieties of frozen borekas, with fillings such as potato, spinach and mushroom, of which I sampled the latter from the American company Tzali’s. They looked promising when they came out of the oven with their golden brown dough; however there simply wasn’t enough filling and I couldn’t taste the mushrooms inside these borekas. Perhaps the other fillings are better, but I wouldn’t recommend the mushroom.
Although I tried to find as many bakeries and stores as possible that sell borekas, there are probably some that I missed. Two places that I didn’t get to visit but which also offer these pastries include La Marguerite (6630 Côte St-Luc Road) and the brunch menu at Rumi (5198 Hutchison).
Whether you’re a boreka aficionado like myself, or new to the game, you’re now prepared to go get yourself one of the many delicious borekas this city has to offer!
Katherine Romanow is a writer, hardcore foodie, and a Jewish food academic living in Montreal. You can find more of her culinary musings at her Jewesses With Attitude blog.