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A History of Börek (historytoday.com)
91 points by diodorus 30 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 38 comments

I wasn't quite convinced by the etymology, so I figured I would check Gerhard Doerfer's Türkische und mongolische Elemente im Neupersischen (vol. 2). It turns out this is not an easy word to trace.[0]

Doerfer judges it as not originally Turkic, owing to its limited distribution and absence in older texts, and suggests that it more likely came from Iranian languages. So far so good. But, he adds, "Here it also seems to be unetymologizable." Womp womp…

It may be that Andreas (sic) Tietze found something else—I haven't looked at his Turkish etymological dictionary, which was unfinished at the time of his death. If there were a clear answer, however, I don't think it would have escaped Doerfer and the others who looked into this.

[0] https://i.imgur.com/sTbWtq6.png

Sevan Nişanyan (an Armenian-Turkish language researcher) suggests that it may be of Persian origin (būrak, a dish made with dough and meat). He, however, doesn't dismiss the possibility that it may have some etymological relationship with the Slavic word peirogi (pirog пирог, pirojki пирожки - a dough dish) and the Persian word having a Turkic root (having made a full circle like tülbent).


I love Nişanyan Sözlük! It's an incredible resource.

Anyway, Doerfer mentions the pierogi theory, attributing it to Ramstedt (see the last part of the screenshot I posted), but he says it's been refuted by Vasmer. (Presumably Max Vasmer? Wow, that guy had a hell of a career.)

There is the impression of something circular going on. If you look for būrak in the Dehkhoda Persian dictionary, you'll see that it was also known as a kind of yogurt soup/stew, with the name perhaps originating as an alternate form of the Turkic (!) bughrā. That, in turn, may be an abbreviation of bughrā-khānī, which you can find described, e.g. in Steingass's dictionary, as a pastry dish dressed with milk or gravy. (It was allegedly named after a ruler of Khwarazm.)

So, if you wanted to piece the whole thing together, you could theorize that bughrā-khānī was shortened to bughrā, from which the Persian būrak eventually derived—and then went back into Turkic as börek. This could also involve flexibility in the intended dish, between a stuffed pastry with gravy, and some kind of soup… maybe with dumplings? It wouldn't be the strangest instance of metonymy.

You know, it's crazy for me to revisit this topic. Some time ago I was trying to figure out a sixteenth-century Persian poem, in which there are references to bughrā'ī and māhīchah. The best I could figure out, it was supposed to mean a soup with pieces of pastry in it. It never occurred to me that this might be connected to a theorized etymology of börek.

Etymology can be addictive. The links, theories and how the words reflect the evolution of societies always amaze me.

Nişanyan also has a blog where he goes deep in words he finds interesting. It's in Turkish and translators fail horribly, unfortunately, to keep most of the meaning. I still wanted to share if anyone speaks the language:


I took his class when I was an undergrad. He's a very smart and colorful person who speaks 12 languages. I remember looking forward to each class.

I've always thought that schools should teach history with food. Bring in börek and you can teach about Byzantium, the Ottomans, and Southeastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa in general. Bring in pierogi and teach about Central Europe, Russia, Poland, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Ukraine, and so on. Better yet, make the foods during class itself.

An excellent book about this is Cuisine and Empire by Rachel Laudan.

However I think you're missing one of the points of teaching history in schools, which is to instill some sort of shared sense of national identity (which is mostly made up).

I'm Italian, and we are taught that there is some kind of common thread between Caesar, Dante, Machiavelli, and modern Italy. What if we were taught that the durum wheat we use for pasta came from North Africa, that the same idea of making pasta is probably Chinese (by way of the Mongols)? Most of what we consider staples nowadays are either very recent inventions or come from immigration and interaction with our neighbors. How could we justify closing our borders to the refugees coming from the other side of the Mediterranean if we didn't believe the nationalist propaganda?

Another great example of the political use of cuisine is the adaptation of Greek moussaka from its Ottoman ancestor, which involved adding Béchamel to make it more French...

I'm not sure I follow this post.

All cultures mimic, adopt and modify aspects of other cultures. See: New York pizza, Australian beer etc. It doesn't follow that the resulting outcome is any less a valid expression of national cultural identity.

Likewise, I don't follow the connection between having a national identity and having national borders.

I once invited my neighbour over for dinner. He introduced me to his BBQ recipe which I now make all the time for my family. But he also got drunk and pissed himself on my couch. I won't be inviting him to move in with us any time soon, despite us having some culinary cultural overlap.

Well there is a stark difference between: "This is my grandma recipe, a family heritage" and "This is my drunk piss-himself-on-the-couch neighbor recipe" the first is something that can inspire you to impale yourself on a bayonet, the second is not.

In Europe much of the teaching of history in school has something to do with inventing a common national narrative, that's why everyone minimizes their own war crimes (with some exceptions after Nazism and Fascism, where Germany and Italy wanted a clean cut), and that's why France has forbidden Paths of Glory until 1975 and celebrates WWII victory.

As I was saying in another post almost every country in the Balkans has some kind of national myth about when they were an empire spanning the whole region (so does Italy about the Roman Empire). Ukrainians are very proud about Kievan Rus' (as a tool to prove superiority or precedence over Russians) and I could go on about this.

Maybe New World countries are based less on a nineteenth century national myth, with everyone being able to trace their ancestry to some immigration a few generations back, but here in the Old World this kind of half lies are still very much present.

Re: the connection between national identity and national borders is basically a softer version of the racial substitution conspiracy theory: if these immigrants swamp our country they are going to prevent us from using real pork in carbonara and add pineapple to our pizzas.

Also, tomatoes came from the new world, so pasta/pizza sauce is a recent invention! Likewise with polenta (corn). I wonder what Italian cuisine was like in the 1500s.

Also, coffee is relatively new. Espresso, latte etc. etc. are all recent inventions.

We did some light version of this in elementary school in the 80s, at least at my little public school. There was a thing we did once per six weeks for a day, where everyone brought in some unique food they (or their parents) made at home and we discussed them with some cultural background, and tasted each others' food. I can see how in the modern world there would be a lot of barriers to that (safety concerns, allergy concerns, etc).

I like this idea a lot! It would also be neat to just distribute the material from certain core subjects like history across several other courses. So in history you're learning about the Ottoman Empire and in home ec preparing börek. Or WW2 in history and cryptography in computers class.

And Irish history?

It's potatoes all the way down.

...and before Columbus?

I was at a luxury Turkish resort in the Mediterranean this summer. It had an amazing open buffet. You could find anything you want. I'd just fill two plates with different boreks and nothing else. Hot, right out of the oven, they were amazing.

If you visit the Balkans make sure to try it. There are many variations of the börek and all them are great.

At least in Bosnia, there are no variations of the börek. There is only one börek - with meat. Other "variations" with cheese, potato etc.. they have also a different name. Basically if you order a börek, you will get it with meat.

Yes, this is a common "fight" between people in Bosnia and neighboring countries:

In Bosnia, "börek" (or "burek", as is its local spelling) is only filled with meat, while the rest of the dishes fall under the broader category of "pitas" (or pies): sirnica (filled with cheese), krompiruša (filled with potatoes), zeljanica (filled with cabbage), jabukovača (filled with apples)...

In Serbia and Croatia, they're all "burek" with different stuffings, so burek with cheese, burek with potatoes, etc.

It's a weird hill to die on, but you will receive some weird looks if you request just "burek" in Serbia/Croatia/Montenegro, or "burek with cheese" within Bosnia.

Zeljanica is, despite its name, filled with spinach rather than cabbage. Then there's also an abomination called "pizza-burek", it's probably as bad as it sounds...

Borek and Goran Bregovic are the only 2 things that whole Balkans can agree on.

They also all agree that their country once comprised all of the Balkans and possibly was the cradle of western civilization.

Albanians have it, too - byrek.

Most typically 'me mish' or 'me spinaq' - with meat or with spinach.

There's a few places in the Chicagoland area that serve Börek (I see it spelled Burek here also). The one closest to me offers fillings of ground beef, spinach and feta, mushrooms, or potato. They are all very good.

Börek may have its origins in Turkish cuisine and may be one of its most significant and, in fact, ancient elements of the Turkish cuisine, having been developed by the Turks of Central Asia before their westward migration to Anatolia in the late Middle Ages, or it may be a descendent of the pre-existing

Highly recommended in the NYC area: https://www.djerdan.com/

This reminds me that I should bake a börek again sometime. With a decent salad, you can have it even for lunch or dinner.

Excellent dish for programmers.

Dunno, pastries are often nice but the flaky dough is messy to eat in front of a computer, and the bite-sized pastries tend to be sweet and covered in sticky stuff.

Real programmer don't eat in front of their screen.

Then I fail to see what's programmer-relevant about dishes, and what would make börek an excellent dish for programmers aside from being an excellent dish in general.

« For centuries, it had been the food of nomads and wanderers. Cooked over campfires, it had been carried in knapsacks from Beijing to Barcelona, from Modena to the Maghreb. »

That's the exact opposite of programmer-relevant.

I love the idea that folded Philo dough originated to emulate oven-fluffy bread -- when ovens weren't available.

Actually it's not Turkish. It is an Armenian food, some of the Balkan states also had it in different forms and different recipes at the same time. Those predate even the ancestors of the Ottoman Turkish empire. This is again, part of the genocide. After committing the actual murders, the culture is stolen all good things are now claimed to be Turkish. They did this also to the Greeks, Assyrians, and some of Balkan states.

"Borek" is definitely Turkish, of central asia origin. You are conflating irrelevant things. Not everything you see in Turkish culture is "stolen" from some other culture, Turks roam a huge area in 3 different continents for thousands of years, they teach learn and adapt, what did you expect? It is getting really tired of seeing whenever something remotely Turkish is mentioned someone jumps with these.

Feel free to downvote more or post more revisionist history. It is not even remotely turkish, but like most "turkish" food and drinks, it was stolen from the cultures they attempted to destroy. Truth is downvoted these days.

Well, if you have a pinch of evidence, please enlighten us.

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