Stroll into any bakery in Israel and you will be welcomed by the site of counters ladened with bourekas of all different shapes and flavors. The variety on show can be quite overwhelming and trying to choose which ones to take with you on your way can be a real challenge!

Bourekas are pastry pockets filled with different fillings, painted with egg and sometimes sprinkled with poppy seeds or sesame seeds. They are generally eaten warm and can be eaten as a snack, an accompaniment to a meal or as a meal in themselves.

The popularity of bourekas in Israel is not surprising as Israel is a place where so many cultures collide, each leaving their mark in different ways. One of those ways is through food. The boureka probably came from Ladino Jews from Spain, before being expelled from the country they traditionally made a very similar dish, empanadas. Empanadas are perhaps a little smaller and are moon shaped. After being expelled from Spain, they found themselves living under Ottoman rule, they took their traditional Kosher cuisine with them but over time it adapted. The Turks have a similar pastry called a borek, so the name boureka comes from the two languages.

The two most common boureka fillings are mashed potato and cheese. As Jewish dietary laws do not allow the eating of milk and meat together, the cheese ones are traditionally made into a triangle so people do not accidentally eat them with a meat meal. The Rabbinate in Israel were very worried that people might err and if a bakery wishes to have a Kosher certificate they must differentiate their cheese variety in this way. Whilst any cheese can be used as a filling, feta and kashkaval cheese are generally used.

There are also a variety of vegetable fillings for those who do not want to eat dairy products including a deep green spinach, a creamy mushroom and a filling eggplant.

Bakers know that you have to keep innovating to keep ahead so they look at what people are eating around them and adapt their products. One of the more recent additions is a pizza boreka, this is often made as a pinwheel instead of a pillow.

Meat eaters are not left out as you can also buy them with a ground meat filling. These are generally not sold in bakeries as they do not normally sell meat and milk together.

If you are looking for a whole meal, you can even buy giant or Turkish bourekas which are much more substantial, are specially shaped as rounded equilateral triangles and can be filled with all kinds of goodies.

For those who can’t get to a bakery, they can make them quite easily using premade puff pastry, adding the topics that they want and baking. You can also buy them ready-made frozen in an uncooked state for you to wipe with egg, sprinkle on seeds and stick them in your oven. There are many companies in Israel who manufacture these including Ariel Bakery in Haifa, who produce a great range including, cheese, potato and mushroom. All of their products are non GMO and many of them are also vegan.

Bourekas are so versatile, are very moorish and the sheer variety of flavors can make deciding which ones to eat rather tough. Personally I love to take one of each! Which flavor is your favorite?