Bourekas vs Knishes, The Ultimate Pastry Showdown
How are Israeli bourekas different from Jewish American Knishes?
The British have their meat filled pasties, the Spanish their empanadas, and Italian, the cheezy calzone. But for the Jewish people, we’ve been blessed with not one, but a handful of popular hand-held, single serving savory pastries to quell our need for a little nosh. Whether you grew up on Bourekas, or Knishes (or both, or neither!), there’s joy, culture, and carbs to celebrate in these irresistibly flaky pastries. But how do they compare?
What are they?
A favored savory pastry in Israel, Bourekas were popularized in Sephardic Jewish cuisine, from Iberian Jews who were expelled from Spain and Portugal in the 15th century, with many fleeing to the Ottoman Empire. Bourekas are thought to have originated in Turkey, after the Spanish Jews fled persecution, and continued making their own version of empanadas in their new home, calling them “borek”. Bourekas are found all throughout Israel, you can find them everywhere and anywhere from your local bakery to the gas station and even in the freezer of supermarkets.
What are they made of?
These flaky delights are often made with puff pastry or filo dough. Bourekas are often filled with salty cheese, meat, mashed potatoes, or vegetables (like pumpkin, spinach, or mushrooms), there really is a boureka for everyone - and a shape to suit each unique filling! Bourekas are so commonly made and consumed, that in 2013, a law passed that mandated kosher bakeries to shape their bourekas based on their fillings to separate milk from meat. For puff pastry bourekas, cheese or dairy fillings must be triangular, while pareve (non-dairy) can be either round or square in shape. For bourekas made with filo dough, dairy fillings are coiled into a snake shape, and pareve bourekas are triangular… we might need a cheat sheet next time we find ourselves picking up a boureka!
How to eat it?
Often served as a breakfast or snack, bourekas are traditionally served with hard boiled eggs, zhoug (a hot sauce), olives and pickled vegetables. Or, they can be enjoyed on the go from your local street vendor.
What are they:?
A knish is a soft, often flaky dough packed full of savory fillings, typically formed into a ball, and baked or fried. Knishes originated from Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe, as they brought recipes from their home countries on their journey to America. Whether it was “knysh” or “knysz” in Ukrainian and Polish, respectively, along the way, the Yiddish word of Knish came to be. Once introduced to New York, where dedicated knisheries opened to accommodate the appetites of local Jews. The first Knisheries opened in 1910 in New York City, with many standing the test of time, serving up hot and steamy knishes for over a hundred years.
What are they made of?
Unlike the many shapes of bourekas, knishes are almost always round or square in shape, with the dough completely enveloping the filling, or a small opening to peek inside! Flaky, soft dough envelopes a filling of mashed potatoes, kasha (buckwheat grain), meat, mushrooms, or cheese. Unlike bourekas, which are usually made with from-scratch fillings, knishes are a great way to repurpose leftovers.
How to eat it?
Now they are synonymous with Jewish delis, knishes are served piping hot with spicy mustard alongside a pastrami sandwich. Whether you’re at a deli or at your Bubbe’s house, you’ll find flaky knishes range from a single bite size, to family-sized delights that are enough to feed a small army.
Whether you grew up on Knishes or Bourekas, or maybe you’re starting to dabble in both, there’s no wrong way to enjoy a bite of a savory, flaky pastry – just watch out for the crumbs!