Bourekas don't have it easy these days.
A staple in various forms across the Mediterranean – and so prevalent in Israel you would think they were the national food – bourekas have been shunted into the corner by health enthusiasts terrified by the sheer wealth of calories and trans fats packed into these stuffed puff pastries.
But what do these critics know, anyway? All good things come with a price, and in the case of bourekas, it's worth every calorie.
It's as easy to find bourekas in Israel as it to track down falafel, and just like snowflakes, no two are alike.
The Turkish descendents in Israel claim their version is the crown jewel, while Bulgarians insist it is theirs that reigns supreme.
When it comes down to it, though, at least in Tel Aviv, it's really a tale of three neighborhoods: Jaffa, the Lewinsky Market, and the Carmel Market.
With so many bourekasiyas, bakeries and restaurants serving these innocent little devils, it's hard to narrow down the five best in Tel Aviv: Thick and chewy, flaky or soft, cheese or mushroom, with an egg or without – there are so many things to consider when searching for the perfect bourekas.
We here at City Mouse Online and Haaretz Travel teamed up for the challenge and think we just may have found the greatest places to gorge on these culinary bad boys.
Bourekas Shel Abba: The humble bourekas
Dusty Tchlenov Street near Tel Aviv's old central bus station may not render associations of gourmet culinary culture, but tucked away between the rickety old buildings hides a humble little shop serving some of the best bourekas in town. The proof is in the pudding – or puff pastry, if you will. A long line snakes down the street every Friday, with patrons coming from near and far to get a taste of the Turkish delights spun out by Rafi Ben Meir.
The bourekas are the star here, but the tempting selection of cakes and cookies and savory biscuits leave nothing to be desired, either.
Our choice: Potato bourekas. Many people come here especially for the famous spinach or cheese stuffed phyllo dough, but the potato sang out to us as soon as we walked in, and we were hardly disappointed. The flaky crust and rich filling tickled our tongues and warmed our bellies, and made us want more ever before we reached the last bite. So we ordered a couple more (miniature, priced according to weight) to take on the road.
Tip: Don't skip the hot sauce, or the NIS 1 pickle (every shekel given to a children's charity – the perfect combination, both tasty and charitable). Also, save some room for desert (especially the sweet wheat pudding topped with coconut flakes, nuts and raisins).
The price: NIS 12.5 for a large round spiral-shaped bourekas plus NIS 1 for a pickle.
Where: Tchlenov 23, south Tel Aviv
Leon and Sons Bourekas: The Jaffaite
Behind all good food lies a good story, especially in the case of Leon and Sons Bourekas. When Leon's mother, Julie, settled in Jaffa after emigrating from Bulgaria, she desperately searched for some way to bring food to her poor family's table. The only tool she had to work with was her flair for making phyllo dough. So while the kids were at school, her kitchen transformed into a phyllo factory, the fruits of which both fed her hungry family and brought in a little income when Leon walked around the neighborhood selling the flaky pastry.
Over time, her phyllo treats grew into bourekas, and over time, Leon himself learned how to prepare his mother's specialty. When he became a father, he passed the recipe on to his sons, Eli and Avi, who took over the shop when Leon passed away a few years ago. They added quiches and pastries (Turkish and Bulgarian, also Grandma Julie's recipes) to their repertoire, and their shop turned into a bona fide Jaffa institution.
Our choice: Salty cheese and leek. Leon and Sons takes pride in the fact that its bourekas are made of phyllo dough, not margarine-infused puff pastry, and its web site even elucidates the health benefits of this thin, flaky crust (Only 250 calories for a portion!).
The Bulgarian cheese and leek stuffed generously into two layers of phyllo turn this boureka into a quiche of sorts, lightly crisped on the sides. The only down-fall of a low-fat bourekas: you'll inevitably have to order another.
Tip: Get dessert. Their sweet phyllo fingers are divine, a bourekas but in dessert form. You can choose from a variety of amazing flavors, but our favorite is the sweet cheese with raisins (NIS 3 apiece). Let's see you stop after just one!
The price: The best deal in town. NIS 21.90 for a combination meal including a large spiral boureka with a slow-cooked brown egg, shaved tomato, irresistible tahini, pickles, spicy sauce and a drink.
Where: Olei Tzion 17, Jaffa
Bourekas Lewinsky (Habourekas Shel Eema): South Tel Aviv represents
You can find a whole slew of bourekas stalls on this busy market street just south of Rothschild, but you'll be missing out if you don't grab yourself a taste at the flagship Bourekas Lewinsky. Okay, disclaimer: The joint is actually called Habourekas Shel Eema, but everybody knows it as THE place to get a savory puff pastry in the Lewinsky Market.
This too is a family business (Turkish immigrants), that's passed hands through three generations and has survived 20 years in the bustling market. Their secret: Every boureka is handmade.
Our choice: Spinach and cheese. The Turkish descendents in Lewinsky Market know that a real Turkish bourekas means spinach, and here, they don't skimp on the freshess of their leafy green. Combined with salty cheese, and a light snowfall of shredded potato, this bourekas is a party in the mouth. They use oil instead of margarine here, but the bourekas doesn't taste fatty or slippery – it's actually crispy and just the perfect texture.
Tip: Get there early. These babies go fast. Also, don't order a cola – try ayran, a sweet and sour Turkish yogurt drink that washes down the bourekas and leaves your stomach feeling happy and satisfied.
The price: NIS 13 for a big boureka, NIS 4 for a small cup of ayran.
Where: Lewinsky 46, south Tel Aviv
The Original Turkish Bourekas: A stroll through the Carmel Market
Every self-respecting city needs a legendary food institution, and for Tel Aviv, the Original Turkish Bourekas is just that. The name gives it all away from the start: This place isn't just for bourekas, it's also a Turkish bakery offering the best of the Anatolian traditional pastries and desserts (the halva is to die for).
Our choice: Smoked eggplant bourekas. A steaming spiral pastry filled with aubergines just lifted from the fire, pieces of potato, and a sprinkling of Bulgarian cheese, accompanied by an egg, a simple pickle and sliced tomatoes.
Tip: The ayran here is delicious, but you must not – under any uncertain terms – skip dessert. The rice pudding is the star here, a cold and sweet porridge cooked in milk, topped with a little cinnamon. Ask any Turk in Tel Aviv – this is the best place to get dessert in the city.
The price: NIS 20 for a boureka with all the fixings
Where: HaCarmel 39, Tel Aviv
Dalal: The bourekas meets Neve Tsedek
Match a divine little gourmet restaurant with the prettiest little neighborhood in Tel Aviv, and what do you get: an excuse to have a great day. Dalal (the restaurant, not its sister bakery) knows the recipe for giving you that great day, and never fails to fulfill your wish.
Take a seat in the garden or indoors, and you'll feel transplanted, at least for the meal, to the sidewalk bistros of Paris.
Our choice: Cheese bourekas. You might expect a restaurant that also runs a bakery across the street to have a range of bourekas on offer, but at Dalal there's just one. And what a one it is. Order it during the work week, and you'll be rewarded with two large and indulgent flaky triangles, but order it on the weekend, and you'll be in for an incomparable treat. The generous amount of butter holding this puff pastry together already makes Dalal's bourekas melt in your mouth, but the filling – oh, the filling! Three kinds of cheese (feta, ricotta and cream), spread throughout the large pasty, makes this puff pastry nothing less than perfect. For your weekend brunch, your plate will be accompanied by a yogurt, tomato salsa, a pickle and an egg (which you should immediately stuff inside the bourekas to create the perfect union of flavors with the cheese).
Tip: Go to Dalal's bakery afterward and get yourself some of their amazing pastries. In fact, get a pistachio and chocolate pastry (NIS 14). And bring one to us, here at Haaretz, because we're getting hungry again!
The price: NIS 38. Believe us, it's a steal.
Where: Shabazi 10, Neve Tsedek, Tel Aviv
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