Saturday, January 1, 2011

"Burek" means burek

Behold the spoils of Tony & Tina's Pizza, an unassuming pizza place in the Bronx just off of Arthur Avenue. It's owned (or just run/employed?) by Albanians, and it's where The Albanian gets burek (above), one of the most amazing things I've ever tasted. It's a savory pastry filled usually with meat ("mish"), cheese ("djath"), creamy spinach ("spinaq"), or pumpkin ("kungul"). It's similar to Greek spanikopita or boureki, or Turkish börek, except the dough is less flaky and more squishy/rubbery - in a good way. Binak always gets the meat version and picks out all of the onions. I, without fail, go for the cheese. We eat it with fresh plain, sour yogurt.

I haven't yet tried making it myself, but I recently found two recipes that I might try out one day: this one and this one.

Right here is what we took home for dinner - cheese on the top, spinach in the middle, and meat on the bottom. The Albanian's mom makes burek back home. "Hers is better," he says, "because you know what's in it - NO ONIONS."

"Gëzuar Vitin e Ri!" means Happy New Year!

 Last year on New Year's Eve, The Albanian and I were in Lausanne, Switzerland visiting his sister's family. It was the first time he'd seen his sister since he came to the US four years ago, and the first time he'd ever met her children. Though she's only 24, The Albanian's sister - we'll call her Besjana - carries the weight of a small Albanian world on her shoulders. She welcomed me into her home and family unconditionally, and she treated me like a younger sister despite the fact that I'm three years older.

That night, we ate like I had never eaten before. In Kosovo, the New Year's Eve tradition is basically to stuff yourself until you can't move. Besjana cooked and served course after course, and just when I thought she couldn't possibly squeeze another tableful of food out of her little kitchen, she'd clear all of the dishes and lay out a set of new ones, each piled high with chocolate, smoked meat, salad, cheese, or some such other delightful and sickening treat.

The first course was Raclette - a traditional Swiss dish of melted cheese (above and below) over potatoes and vegetables.

After the Raclette, this spread appeared. Besjana's daughter danced to an Albanian concert on TV:

A few more courses later, this - roasted chicken, salad with tuna and cheese, smoked meat slices, and wine - made its way into the living room just before midnight.

While my family has never been big on New Year's, The Albanian's truly celebrates the joy and excitement of a fresh year ahead, and all that they have to be thankful for from the year that just came to a close. His mother and brother cried last night over the phone when he called them around 6pm New York time to wish them a "Gëzuar Vitin e Ri!" Then they threw a few grenades into the air and The Albanian wistfully listened to them explode thousands of miles away.

Pronunciation: Gzoo-are veetin ee ree!