Thursday, January 4, 2007


TV food programs are one of the few places left where diversity is celebrated without controversy.  Regional accents abound, and not as broad stereotypes.  Immigrants aren't a menace to our culture.

The other day, on a rerun of "$40 a Day," Rachel Ray was in Milwaukee and visited Three Brothers, a Serbian restaurant, where she had a burek (it had meat, but they should come in spinach and cheese versions).  They showed some footage of it being prepared in the kitchen, clarifying how a round pie results from square dough sheets.

This reminded me of another old LanguageHat post.  It was on parkour, a French word that has been imported into English with a k.  A digression within the thread discussed bri[c]k, another French import with k.  I'll summarize it again here, with some updates.

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As for spelling, Google finds feuilles de brick, bric, brik, and brique; but the first gets the most ghits.

brick is already a French word from the English 'brig'; this is the first sense in the Petit Larousse. The more common brique is from the Dutch, just like the equivalent English 'brick', which is cognate with all those 'break' words. (Except that as an adjective, it only means 'brick-colored', not 'made of brick'.)
The second brick entry says, "n.m. (de l'ar.) Gallette très fine à base de blé dur. (Cuisine tunisienne.)" That is, brick is from the name of Tunisian dish.

In French and English, brick is also used to mean the round sheets of pastry.  Properly, these are called ملسوقة (malsouqa). Since they come in stacks wrapped in cellophane, they look like bánh tráng, Vietnamese spring roll wrappers, but in wheat instead of rice.
Other terms for the dough are warqa and dioul. ورقة is just 'leaf' or 'sheet of paper'; wrq is 'to grow leaves'. So it's the same as phyllo < φύλλον. My vocabulary isn't good enough to figure out dioul (or d'youl). One page I found with a bilingual recipe has dioul in the French, with أوراق in the Arabic. In the accompanying photo they look like samosas, but sweet.

This comes from Turkish börek, which then appears in various forms as a word and a dish throughout the former Ottoman Empire.  Serbian and Bosnian burek.  Macedonian бурек.  Albanian byrek.  Bulgarian бюрек.  (It's risky even to name the languages and word boundaries here.  The single Wikipedia article uses Serbo-Croatian in one place and separates elsewhere.  No offense is intended by my choices.)

A local Turkish restaurant in Brooklike makes sigara böreği, cigar-shaped rolls filled with cheese.

The Armenian is transliterated variously as boereg, boerag, boerek, and byorek.  There are evidently competing dialects and competing transliteration schemes at play here, so I'm not sure how to write it in Armenian and do not find it in any of the dictionaries to which I have access.  Only the last form, բյորեկ, appears online: on, a site that gives information on restaurants in Armenia is Armenian, Russian, and English.  The BPL has a trilingual Russian / English / Armenian Kitchen Dictionary, which might be just what I need.  But the foreign language stacks are a total mess: half the books don't have spine labels; they aren't in anything like call number order; the Armenian books are mixed in with the Arabic and Bengali books; this book is not in the Russian (or English) cookery sections, either.  I guess it will be easier to find someone in Watertown to ask.

Anri Sala, the Albanian video artist, has a work entitled Byrek, featuring an old Albanian woman in Brussels making byrek, mostly in close-ups of her hands.  His grandmother had sent him a letter with her recipe but it was far too difficult for him to make himself, so he had to track down someone who could make them.

Чушки бюрек chushki burek is Bulgarian chile relleno.  Чушка is hot pepper; I'll have loads more to say about them another time.

Hebrew בורקס (borekas) are spinach or potato turnovers sold in falafel places in Israel and their exported Northeastern US copies. סרטי בורקס (sirtei burekas) is a genre of Israeli film of the '70s about the clash between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim. The term is mentioned in a Linguist list posting from a few years ago as a near-calque on "spaghetti western".

Although bierock or pierogi < пирог 'pie' has a roughly similar phonetic shape and some claim the word is from the Turkic, Vasmer dismisses that because the word does not occur in South Slavic.  So I'll save them for another day.

The Turkish word might come from the Turkic root bur(a)- 'twist'.  If you're into Altaic, múra will get you 丸 maru 'circle'.  Or it might come from Persian بورك būrek; the only dictionary I can find with an entry for that says, "A kind of food; a sort of triangular pasta or macaroni; money given to a bystander at dice; mouldiness of bread."  There's a story there, but I don't know it.

Since that post last spring, the Wikipedia entry and the related ones it links to have grown to include much of the above information.  (And I took the liberty of adding a bit more.)  The entry gives pride of place to foods from the former Yugoslavia, since it appears that is the one into which Turkish etc. have been merged.

But somehow I originally managed to completely forget Γαλακτομπούρεκο (Galaktoboureko), one of my wife's favorite desserts.  It's custard between phyllo sheets with syrup.  (The Wikipedia burek page was missing a galaktoboureko link, so, yes, I added it.)  This word has μπ, momentarily strange for those of us who studied Ancient Greek, for /b/, because β has become /v/.  Which marks it as an import, presumably from Turkish.  galakto- is 'milk', as in galaxy, The Milky Way.

Cambridge old-timers will remember when The Middle East was just a restaurant and not a music club and there was a Greek pastry shop at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Brookline Ave.  That was Vouros.  They are still around, but in Roslindale.  And they still have galaktoboureko.


Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Nice post - and don't forget Algerian Arabic بوراك bûrâk!

John Emerson said...

There has been a Turkish (Tatar) population in Poland at least since the first battle of Tannenburg (1410). So the word pirogy might ultimately be Turkish.

MMcM said...

So maybe a non-standard transmission path leads to pirog's lack where you'd otherwise expect it?

I am inclined to see a relationship, since the sound and meaning are pretty close. But I am by no means an expert.

The question seems to be pretty widespread. For instance, here is a sci.lang discussion referencing the talk page of the Wikipedia page, which some proposed to merge with pierogi. But here is a posting on some list from 1998 saying that the Turkic connection was rejected by Slavic linguists decades before.

Catherine said...

In Hungarian, there is the word "burok" (pron.: bouroque),meaning all sorts of shells (chestnut, wallnut), envelopes, etc. even the amniotic sac, things which cover and/or hide entirely something.
It is also the name of a pastry case.