Freshly-made burek pastries in North York are a crunchy, salty, creamy journey to the Balkans
Mak European Delicatessens is at 1335 Lawrence Avenue East in North York
Mak European Delicatessens is more than just a grocery store.
Nestled on the side of a nondescript plaza off the Don Valley Parkway, the shop serves as a community hub for Canadian immigrants that culturally identify as Balkan.
Coming from the area of southeastern Europe cradled by the Balkan Mountains, from places like Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia, people make the trek to Mak Deli for a taste of home.
For the 15 years since the store opened, they've come for smoked schinkenspeck, tubs of fresh cheese, and bottles of ajvar, a bright red spread made of garlicky red peppers.
"When my parents opened this place, there were very few stores of its kind," said Nadja Makota, now a co-owner of the deli. "This is a taste of the Balkans. People come from various parts of the GTA because here they feel like it's back home."
Growing up, I remember regularly driving by the brightly-lit sign out front, but it wasn't until about a decade ago that I stepped inside.
I was introduced to three food items that day that to this day are still regular fixtures in my fridge: freshly made feta cheese with a soft and zippy tang, intoxicating logs of smoked beef that taste lighter and softer than beef jerky, and addictive bottles of ajvar.
Ripping into freshly-baked pastry
It took a few visits before I could muster up the courage to visit the back of the grocery store, converted into a tiny restaurant with seating for about a dozen people.
On offer is a tight menu of Balkan favourites like cevapi, tiny cylinders of marinated grilled meat served in a pita with unripened cheese, pljeskavica, a grilled patty of meat served steak-style, and smoked veal sausages called sudjukice.
It's back there that you'll find freshly-baked burek, a large stuffed pastry reminiscent of the layers of croissants, baked to form a thin crust.
Burek can be stuffed with ground beef, cheese, cheese and potato, or spinach, and it's traditionally served with a healthy serving of yogurt.
You eat it with your hands, ripping up the cylinders of burek and dipping it in the yogurt. The entire experience is a journey of phyllo pastry crunch, salty cheese, and creamy yogurt.
She employs two women who make it daily, rolling and stuffing the phyllo dough using a recipe that has been handed down through generations of her family.
"This is how my mother used to make burek back home, she learnt it from her mother," she said. "My goal is to try and preserve this for as long as I can here in Canada."
Mak European Delicatessens is at 1335 Lawrence Ave. E. in North York
Suresh Doss's weekly food segment airs every Thursday on Metro Morning. Watch for video of his jaunts across the city on CBC Toronto's Facebook page.
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