Tried And Tasted: Layers of flavor

The good, the bad and the flaky on Jerusalem’s burekas scene.

Burekas (photo credit: Amy Spiro)
(photo credit: Amy Spiro)
If there’s anything that can come close to the status of falafel as Israel’s national fast food, it must be burekas. Flaky, soft, puff pastry or phyllo dough wrapped around smooth potato, creamy cheese, hearty spinach or sauteed mushrooms, it’s easy to scarf down two, four or six burekas in one sitting.
While they’re available in just about every bakery around the city, there are still many little storefronts that sell the pastry exclusively.
In my travels, I encountered two main types of burekas sellers: The traditional, working-class burekas joints that offer large, meal-sized pastries, which are meant to be cut open and stuffed with hard-boiled eggs, tehina and harif; and bakeries and other stores which sell a variety of little burekas in traditional fillings.
If you eat enough burekas, you’ll learn the shapes that correspond with the fillings: Spirals are filled with spinach, rectangles with potato, flat triangles with cheese, bulging triangles with poppy seeds are mushroom, and pizza spirals... well, they’re pizza.
And, just in case it doesn’t go without saying, burekas should always be eaten hot.
All tested establishments are kosher.
Burekas Ima: A-
Contrary to the name, this Talpiot bakery offers much more than just burekas, but it certainly excels at its namesake. With varieties including potato, cheese, spinach, mushroom, pizza and vegetarian hot dog, Burekas Ima offers a pastry that is exceptionally flaky but still soft and not greasy, with dozens of layers.
The dough houses a generous filling; the potato was just verging on bland, though the mushroom was well spiced and the cheese had a good consistency and flavor. Frozen burekas are also available for sale.
NIS 41 per kilo 17 Rivka Street
Wisdom of Burekas from Haifa: A-
This small storefront inside Mahaneh Yehuda is a must stop on every guided tour of the shuk, and for good reason. The flaky, tasty dough envelops a solid amount of filling, from several varieties of cheese to spinach, mushroom, potato, tuna, eggplant, spinach with cheese and bean sprouts. The potato was well spiced but the mushroom was a touch too peppery and appeared to be canned rather than fresh. And since the proprietors claim their dough is made from oil instead of margarine, your arteries will thank you.
NIS 38 per kilo 24 Mahaneh Yehuda Street
Hataboon Bakery: B+
Many a traveler has grabbed a cookie, doughnut or sandwich from this bakery on their way to or from Jerusalem, but they’d also do well to pick up a few burekas. With the classic potato, mushroom, spinach and pizza flavors in addition to the more adventurous tuna, sabich and shakshuka offerings, Hataboon has something for everyone. The dough is particularly flaky and crispy and the potato and mushroom fillings are particularly good.
NIS 49 per kilo or NIS 13 each for large 2nd Floor, Central Bus Station Archos Burekas: B
This off-the-beaten-path shop attempts to do the unthinkable – turn burekas healthy. Not low-calorie of course, but they do offer a variety of whole wheat pastries, in addition to the regular kind, and ones made with butter. Fillings include cheese, potato, mushroom, pizza and spinach with cheese. The dough is nice and flaky, tending toward crunchy at the edges, and the filling is generous. Frozen burekas are also available for sale.
NIS 45 per kilo 48 Hanevi’im Street
Ne’eman Bakery: B
My experiences with perhaps the most ubiquitous bakery in the city have been hit or miss, and therefore I was somewhat wary of sampling its burekas. But I was pleasantly surprised that their offerings – which include pizza, cheese, spinach, potato and mushroom – had a nice, soft dough that still retained a good level of flake. The burekas are mostly larger than the average size I encountered, and had a decent level of filling, though they could have used a bit more spice.
NIS 25 per kilo A dozen locations in Jerusalem
Marzipan: B
The bakery famed for its chocolate rogelach also offers plenty of burekas, including mushroom, cheese and potato. The dough has a nice flake but is a touch on the bland side, needing more salt. The mushroom filling has a particularly nice flavor and texture, or, as my dining companion put it, “I like what’s going on in here.” The cheese filling also had a good salt level.
NIS 38 per kilo 14 Agrippas Street, 5 Rahel Imenu Street and 17 Tiferet Yisrael Street
Burekas Musa: B
Burekas Musa near the Jerusalem Municipality is among the old-school burekas joints in the capital. It serves only burekas, and only two varieties: spinach or cheese. The large flaky pastries can be cut open and filled with the traditional hard-boiled egg, tehina and spicy peppers. The dough was crispy outside and tender inside, and the cheese filling was salty and creamy, but it lacked enough flavor punch to shine amid the added egg and tehina.
NIS 16 each 30 Jaffa Road
Turkish Burekas from Haifa: B-
This 24-hour (except for Shabbat) burekas haunt has a wide variety of burekas of all types and sizes, including cheese, pizza, spinach with cheese, potato and mushroom. The dough isn’t particularly flaky or crisp, but instead is soft. The potato filling was well balanced, and the sesame seeds are a nice topping.
NIS 18 each for large or NIS 34 per kilo for small 28 Jaffa Street English Cake: B-
Like just about every bakery in town, English Cake offers the typical potato, mushroom, spinach, cheese and pizza burekas. The dough has a decent level of flake but is fairly bland, and the filling is pretty stingy.
NIS 39 per kilo Six locations in Jerusalem
Ramle Burekas: C+
This tiny corner shop just outside Mahaneh Yehuda is firmly in the old-school camp, serving only large Turkish-style burekas filled with either potato, cheese, spinach, mushroom or eggplant. But the dough was excessively greasy and heavy, even bordering on chewy.
NIS 11 each 44 Agrippas Street
Angel Bakery: C
The burekas at Angel were almost a uniform disappointment. The dough had little flavor, the filling was extremely skimpy in almost all of the flavors and what there was was fairly bland. About half of the burekas were also too well done, some with burnt edges. When warm, the cheese filling oozed out after you took a bite. Varieties include potato, mushroom, cheese and pizza.
NIS 40 to NIS 42 per kilo A dozen locations in Jerusalem
Next month I’ll return to the topic of my first column: doughnuts! Let me know what I missed last year or where you’ve had your most memorable sufganiya by emailing