Tourist Tip #48 / Bourekas, the Other Israeli Street Food

Israel's other street food is a flaky alternative to the falafel sandwich. Enjoy a variety of stuffed flavors in these delectable snacks with ancient Turkish origins.

Mention “Israeli street food” and falafel naturally comes first to mind. But to head straight for the stuffed pita means you’re missing out on Israel’s other stuffed delight – the boureka. 

Bourekas are pastries made of phyllo dough (puff pastry), stuffed with a variety of ingredients, from salty cheese, potatoes, spinach, mushrooms, and eggplant. 

The food and its name are widely considered to be of Turkish origin, thought to be one of the oldest and most significant staples of Turkish cuisine. Versions of it are popular in the Balkans and North Africa and the Israeli variation was brought here as part of the culinary traditions of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews.

Most are bite-sized but the bigger ones are popularly spliced open so strips of hard-boiled egg can be inserted. This both ups the protein (and cholesterol) count and gives the snack a somewhat meatier taste and substance.

It may feel like a grab-bag to discover what’s inside but the various shapes and their associated toppings provide useful clues. For example, the salty cheeses usually arrive in small triangles sprinkled with sesame seeds. Potato bourekas, also topped with sesame seeds, tend to be square or rectangular. A less salty cheese comes in semi-circular puff pastries. Spinach ones are cylindrical or twisted, wrapped in oily phyllo dough. 

Vegetarians can rejoice: Most bourekas are veg-friendly and, unique to Israel, are often made with margarine rather than butter to keep them non-dairy (those without cheese, of course). 

Surgeon General’s warning: Given the above ingredients, it seems unnecessary to point out that bourekas are not a health food. 

Bourekas can be found at various bakeries with take-away counters throughout town, as well as on racks at your local supermarket and some large coffee shop chains.

Eyal Toueg