I share a special connection with food. Trying new food is like an adventure; I get to learn more about a culture, and I learn what flavors go together. The more foods I try, the better I am able to cook, bake, and invent more dishes!
Some people think that there isn’t much “British food”, or at least that it isn’t very good. In my opinion, there is a wide range of foods which are distinctly British, such as scones with clotted cream, steak and ale pies (kind of like a shepherd’s pie), fish & chips, Yorkshire pudding (I still don’t fully understand this dish), sausage rolls (sausage in pastry dough), and so much more.
However, the unique part about studying in London is the fact that I’m not just exposed to British food, I’m exposed to any and every food I can imagine! In some of my previous posts I’ve commented on how London is one of the most diverse cities in the world. This carries over to the food scene. There’s Chinese, Bangladeshi, Thai, Indian, Italian, Middle Eastern, and so many more cuisines.
So instead of just exploring British food, I’ve been able to expand my food knowledge across many cultures. The best way to do this is by visiting a food market. It’s like a farmer’s market, but instead of only selling fruits and vegetables, the vendors sell fresh baked goods, bread, cheese, meat, fish, and ethnic cuisine.
The best place to experience this is Burough Market. I went there this past Saturday, and it was very crazy, but so worth it! It was great getting to explore all the creative foods, and also to purchase from independent vendors. Buying food at local markets helps the local economy. It’s like helping your friends, families, and neighbors’ businesses as opposed to getting food at a chain store like a Subway. Large corporations push out privately owned businesses because they have more money and resources behind them. That’s why it’s very important to support local farmer’s markets, food stalls, and even Ma and Pa stores.
Sadly I forgot to take a picture of it, but I tried a cheese bourek. That’s a really fancy way of saying I ate a lot of cheese in pastry dough. I got it from a food stall called “Balkan Bites” for only three pounds! I could have chosen between potato and onion, spinach and cheese, or tomato and basil, but I was in a pure cheese mood.
Bourek can actually belong to multiple cultures. It’s more of an Eastern European or Balkan cuisine. The Balkans include countries like Albania, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria. Each of these cultures has this dish, but each may call it a different name. In Greece it’s called “tiropita,” which in English means “cheese pie.”
When I handed over my three quid (another word for pounds, the currency in Britain) I was given a paper bag with my cheese bourek inside – a *warm* cheese bourek. I could feel my fingers crunching the flaky filo dough as I tried to delicately hold the pastry and pull it out of the bag. The first bite was amazing. I hadn’t hit the filling yet, just the buttery dough. The next bite was full of cheese.
It was a bit milder than I typically like my cheeses, as I’m used to the Greek combination of cheeses (Feta and Ricotta instead of Gloucester). I still really enjoyed it.
Though there was a blue sky, it was quite cold and windy, so the warmth of the pastry really helped out as I continued to walk around the stalls and drool at all the baked goods and desserts presenting themselves to me. I also went past a bakery teaching students how to make croissants. I stared through the window as the teacher rolled the dough into the croissant shape, and wished I could taste the finale product.
You know the flaky dough used in baklava, or how a crunchy croissant has those really thin flaky layers of dough? That’s called filo dough. It’s about a millimeter thick, and you layer a piece of filo dough down, brush butter on it, then put another piece of dough on top. You repeat that 10-12 times and when it cooks, the butter makes the dough all crispy, flaky, and delicious.
So there is crispy filo dough on the top and bottom. In the center is a combination of three warm cheeses: Bulgarian feta, double Gloucester, and another one I forgot the name of. They have a softer flavor. You know how cheddar cheese can be really sharp, but Swiss cheese is more mild? This is a sweeter, softer, more mild cheese combination.
This dish really helps to explain the local environment in London. Bourek is an Eastern European/Balkan dish, however, it was being prepared by a local vendor who lives in London. So though they may be from the Balkans, they are likely using some British ingredients in the dish. They also decided to use Gloucester cheese, which is a British cheese. So the Bourek combined both traditional Balkan ingredients like feta cheese and filo dough, in addition to British ingredients. The food was a melting pot of cultures, just like London!