In the months after losing her grandmother, Magbule, in late 2017, Ariana Malushi craved nothing more than the Albanian dishes she grew up eating during her childhood spent in Fairview and Demarest.
Luckily, the family’s recipes were not lost with her late grandmother. In the midst of their grief, Ariana and her family gathered to document Magbule’s recipes. Her aunt, Alida Malushi, a Kosovo-born pastry chef who closed her bakery to care for her ill mother, was instrumental to the process. “She’s really the gatekeeper of all of the recipes in the family,” says Ariana.
While the family worked to preserve the recipes, Ariana started thinking about ways they could share her late grandmother’s burek, a type of filled pastry widely enjoyed as a street food throughout the Balkans and parts of the Middle East, with others. The rounds of savory phyllo pie are flaky on the outside, and can be stuffed with various fillings, such as cheese or beef.
“It’s really our favorite food in our family. We make it for Thanksgiving, and every holiday,” she says. “We started making burek, and talking about how hard it was to find in the market, and saw there was a need, at least in the Balkan community.”
In 2019, Ariana and her aunt launched Balkan Bites, selling the labor-intensive baked spirals in flavors such as spinach and cheese, or beef and onion, at outdoor markets pop-up events like Jersey City’s Midnight Market.
Then, last March, the pandemic hit. Like many food companies, Ariana worked to quickly pivot her business model. With events and pop-up markets restricted, the Malushi women started selling the product online ($18.99 for a four-pack), and now ship across the country. Made in a commercial kitchen in Fairview, the burek are sold frozen and take about 30 minutes to bake in the oven. They emerge plump and golden, and make a great, quick meal or snack, and are especially tasty with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt.
Balkan Bites’ savory burek flavors include spinach and cheese, beef and onion, cheese medley, mushroom and goat cheese, and potato and onion. For a sweet treat, there is also a nutella-stuffed option. Order directly from the Balkan Bites website.Click here to leave a comment