Burek Battles


When I first moved to Croatia I loved to frequent the country’s bakeries. Of course there was always a problem about what to call things. Sure I knew what a croissant was, but a štangica or a lisnato? A kiplić or is it kiflić? Over time I managed to get most of these down and even learned some of the names of the various loafs of bread. Yet there is still one item whose very conceptualization I’m unsure about, an item that no one can seem to agree on. Of course I’m talking about burek! …Or, am I?

Has this happened to you? You go to a bakery and buy a chocolate burek, or an apple burek, or maybe a burek with spinach and cheese. And then you eat it and someone, like a know-it-all-neighbor asks: “What are you eating?” And you say: “A chocolate burek.” And god help you, because here. it. comes.

“That’s not a burek. Burek can only have meat.” This hypothetical, totally not a real neighbor or know-it-all-student says. And fine, maybe he or she’s right. But, riddle me this, if burek only comes with meat, then how am I supposed to order it at the bakery? It has a sign that says burek! Huh? Should I just go back to pointing?!?

Or, maybe the bakery is a magic place of conceptual temporality, like Las Vegas. Except instead of ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,’ we get:

What’s burek in the bakery, is only burek in the bakery.

Croatia you are a weird place. Everything here has at least two names. Things have one official name and then a name that everyone else uses. And this duality extends to street names, the names of pavilions, parks, and, even me. Sometimes I’m Cody McClain Brown, other times I’m Cody McLean. Once in the newspaper I was Cosy Mxclain. And another time, my favorite, I was Cody McNešto. Of course it goes all the way to the items on sale in the bakery. This duality between the official version and reality actually extends throughout all aspects of Croatian society. There are official “rules” and then there are the way things are really done. This is what makes the bureaucracy so frustrating to deal with. There is always a sneaking suspicion that whatever document or rule or thing that you need, is in some other context or circumstance not needed.

It certainly says something about a country when you can begin a blog about bakeries and burek and talking about bureaucracy.

One final note: when I talk to people about this they say ‘Oh, well Bosnians are the one’s who care about what’s in burek.’ And this may well be true, but I was in Bosnia once, 11 years ago and didn’t eat burek. Yet, I’ve had people comment on what’s burek or not burek at least ten times… in… Croatia! What a country, we can’t even agree on what we disagree about.