Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Turkish Take on Pizza

L.A.’s Original Farmers Market, located at 3rd and Fairfax, is Los Angeles’ version of Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market. What started in July 1934 as a dirt lot where farmers could congregate and sell their fresh produce has now transformed into a renowned dining extravaganza for tourists and locals alike. From Brazilian to French to Japanese to standard American diner fare, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

On this particular trip, I gave The Village a go. The unassuming stall is dedicated to serving a beloved Mediterranean snack food: the boerek. Owner Mosves Aroyan already headed Moishe’s Restaurant, a Farmers Market stand specializing in Mediterranean and Lebanese cuisine. Yet after traveling through Europe, he discovered the boerek and decided to open The Village.

Many people may not be familiar with what a boerek actually is. Also known as pide or pedeh, they are savory pastries that look like modified pizzas. They can easily be carried and eaten on the go, and are eaten at every meal of the day. Toppings range from the familiar to the unusual; from spinach to fried egg, feta cheese to eggplant, it satisfies both safe and adventurous taste buds. Some people consider it an open-faced sandwich, where the rich flavors take center stage. Invented in the Anatolian Provinces of the early Ottoman Empire (what is now Turkey), the boerek is now commonly found throughout Europe.

The Village has a street-corner bakery atmosphere. A large, dome-shaped oven lined with ceramic tile is located at the heart of the stall, which is where all the boerek baking occurs. A glass case filled with showcase boereks—all adorned with an assortment of toppings—accompanies the menu, enticing passing visitors to give these Turkish pizzas a go. After perusing the offerings, my companion and I decided to split a pesto and fish boerek. Yes, it’s a slightly odd combination, but we’re an audacious pair when it comes to food.

The boerek was made-to-order and it was neat to watch the entire process. It all started with a ball of dough. The woman making our boerek quickly ran the ball through a metal machine, which flattened the dough into an oval shape about the size of a large slipper. She next took the sides and rolled them over towards the center, forming a thick crust all the way around. Ingredients came next: she generously slathered the dough with bright green pesto and chunks of white fish, then sprinkled copious amounts of fluffy white feta. Grabbing a wooden pizza board, she swiftly picked the boerek up and slid it into the hearth oven. As I watched the glowing, dancing flames inside and smelled the street food cooking, I was transported to the alleys of a small Turkish town. Vendors shout their day’s specials, kids play with each other at street corners, the smell of meat grilling permeates the air, and buyers clamor to attain the freshest produce and finest wares. That’s how rustic The Village is!

We began munching as soon as we cut the boerek into pieces. The thick-crust base tasted quite similar to pizza dough. Its yeasty flavor and tender texture made it a treat in and of itself. Yet what made it more than just bread was what went on top. The crust was the ideal cradle for the ingredients; although it worked well as a snack on its own, it was the perfect baseline allowing the toppings’ rich flavors to shine. The pesto-fish grouping complemented each other well, drawing out the salty ocean tang from the seafood and the vibrant herby taste from the spread. The deliciously-gooey cheese stretched for miles with each bite, such stringiness proving its freshness.

I loved the rustic charm of The Village and its food. I’m interested in trying some of their other toppings in the future, whether it’s breakfast-themed (bacon and egg), Italian-influenced (sausage and pepperoni), or Middle-Eastern-inspired (eggplant, tomato, spinach, and feta). I may be on the hunt for a boerek when I return to Philly, so any advice for where to find one would be appreciated!

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