Head to Pelham Gardens for Rare and Authentic Albanian Burek
Photos by Sara Ventiera for the Village Voice
Albanian cuisine is not the easiest to track down, even in a city as diverse with dining options as NYC. Given its strong Mediterranean influence, it's not uncommon to find traditional dishes in restaurants specializing in the region's food. Many a pizza parlor, for example, offers authentic burek, the savory pie hailing from the Balkans. But it's rare to find a spot dedicated solely to the Albanian mainstay. For that, head to Dukagjini Burek (758 Lydig Avenue, Bronx; 718-822-8955) in Pelham Gardens.
The shop looks like any old New York pizza shop: A refrigerated counter is flanked by a bulky steel pizza oven to the back; a concise menu with removable letters sits above; a handful of Formica-covered tables line the walls up front. Unlike your average pizza place, however, the actual show here is different. You're not going to see rounds of dough flying overhead. If you peer around the kitchen wall, you can watch the chef stretching and folding dough; his arm quickly circles through the air with a thin strip of dough before folding it over again, and again. He's making phyllo, and each round takes about four of five minutes of flapping the dough by hand.
That fresh phyllo is the base of the burek ($4 a slice, $16 a pie). Offered with meat, spinach, and feta, or a cheese that's somewhat similar to ricotta, the fillings are layered between the striated layers of dough, resulting in a pastry that's soft and chewy on the inside and crisp and flaky on top. Each one is served in a massive triangular portion that barely fits on a paper plate. For an additional $1.50, there's homemade yogurt to layer on top — each coffee-cup-sized portion is rendered down from a gallon of milk.
These authentic house-made pastries are worth the trip up to the Bronx; owner Marjan Kohlnrekaj and his son Gjon use recipes passed down through the family for the past century to make the specialty pies — the family has a burek shop in Kohlnrekaj's hometown of Dukagjin, Kosovo. Much of the food of the region has been strongly influenced by Turkish cuisine, and the burek is no different; similar pastries can be found all over the former Ottoman Empire. In Albania, burek are commonly sold by street vendors, who peddle them along with other traditional pastries and drinks.
New York has residents from just about every country in the world, and many of them have opened restaurants dedicated to their homelands' cuisine. We're celebrating the resulting diversity of this city's dining scene by eating around the globe, from A to Z, without leaving the city limits. Every week, we'll be hunting down a restaurant that represents a different country, from Afghanistan all the way to Zimbabwe, and everywhere in between. Check out our progress in our Globetrotting the City archives.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.
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