Chicago, IL: Balkan Street Food Burek Made by Hand at City Fresh Market in West Rogers Park Chicago

By Steve Dolinksy |

December 12, 2012 (CHICAGO) (WLS) — Eastern Europeans flock to City Fresh Market in West Rogers Park for burek, a stuffed phyllo dough pastry that’s popular in the Balkans.

In order to make hundreds of burek each day, you have to move quickly. These baked treats are produced en masse by just one person at the busy City Fresh Market in West Rogers Park.

“We like to refer to the burek as traditional street food; Balkan street food,” said City Fresh Market owner Dragan Kovacevic. “Sauteed beef, ground beef with onions, different spices. We also make it with the feta cheese or feta cheese and spinach; some people stuff it with mushrooms, potatoes.”

“Came from Serbia or Yugoslavia the people make from Serbia, Croatia or Bosnia, Macedonian; everybody make the burek, you know,” said Bojan Aleasic, who makes burek every day at City Fresh Market.

Only a handful of places make burek in Chicago and even fewer make their own dough. At City Fresh, they start with simply flour, salt and water, mixing it up with a giant dough hook. After about 10 minutes, the dough has formed into a slightly sticky mass. Everything is done by hand, including the portioning and the kneading. After the dough has rested a bit, it is torn off into fist-sized chunks, requiring strength, speed, accuracy and stamina. The dough is kneaded one more time, then after its rested, it’s shaped – with the aid of oil and shortening as a lubricant – into the thinnest possible sheets.

“That gives it the special taste, the hand toss. It makes a very thin dough. You really can’t buy the dough like that,” said Kovacevic.

They work quickly. Feta cheese – which is crumbled throughout the day from enormous blocks – is spread evenly across the dough, then rolled up into pliable logs and formed into various shapes, both oval and round. After 30 or 40 minutes in the oven, they’re checked for doneness – the bottoms have to be golden brown – and then removed. The dough is flaky and crisp, but there are warm, soft pockets to tear off from the inside. They also make their own tart yogurt for drinking, and it’s sold in the dairy case at the Market. The combination is cherished throughout the Balkans.

“A burek and a glass of yogurt, keep you going for the rest of the day,” Kovacevic said.

The bakery can make special orders if you request them ahead of time, but typically, they’ll always have the cheese and meat on hand in the bakery case.

City Fresh Market
3201 W. Devon Ave.