Armenian Food Turkish Food

Paçanga Böreği: Armenian Food in Istanbul

First making an appearance in the Armenian-run taverns of Istanbul in the 1960s, paçanga böreği – a pastry containing cheese, air-dried beef, tomato, pepper and parsley – has become a firm favourite in every corner of modern-day Turkey. Whilst the name is supposedly taken from a Cuban style of music and dance popular at the time (see: pachanga), the origins of this stuffed filo pastry appear to have deep Armenian roots, with one oral history claiming it can be traced back to an individual Armenian innkeeper from Sarıyer.

The Background: Armenians in Istanbul

In the Turkey of 1914, ethnic Armenians numbered between 1 and 2 million, however only around 60,000 remain today, overwhelmingly concentrated in the Istanbul neighbourhoods of Samatya, Kumkapı, Yeşilköy and Pangaltı. From architecture to entrepreneurialism this community has played an influential role in the shaping of Istanbul, a city they refer to as Bolis (Պոլիս), as well as raising some of Turkey’s most famous men and women, including the journalist Hrant Dink and photographer Ara Güler.

Through centuries of contact between Turks and Armenians, numerous cultural influences have passed between the two, and food is no exception. Exposure to Turkish cuisine has helped create a distinctive Istanbul Armenian food culture, and likewise, dishes with Armenian origins have become commonplace on Turkish tables too, including:

  • Topik – a chickpea dumpling containing potato, pine nuts, onion, tahini and currants
  • Ermeni pilaki – white beans in tomato sauce
  • Midye dolma – stuffed mussels – a signature dish of Istanbul’s Armenian community
  • Tahinli perhizlik – a tahini pastry, similar to nokul
  • Anuşabur – a sweet pudding, made for Christmas, similar to Turkish aşure
  • And last but not least – Paçanga Böreği – a 1960s innovation, involving filo pastry, white cheese and air-dried beef. Recipe below.

How to Make Paçanga Böreği

3 sheets of thinly rolled filo pastry (or Turkish yufka)
150g of pastırma (air-dried beef) or pastrami / prosciutto, finely chopped
200g of grated white cheese (such as kaşar or feta)
1 green pepper, finely chopped (optional)
1 tomato, finely chopped (optional)
A few sprigs of parsley, finely chopped (optional)

Vegetable oil for frying

  1. Mix the finely chopped pastırma, pepper, tomato and parsley in a bowl with the grated cheese
  2. Cut the pastry into rectangles about 12cm wide and 15cm long
  3. For each rectangle, place some of the mixture along the pastry leaving room around the edges
  4. Fold a small flap of dough inwards from the top and bottom of the short side (to keep the mixture inside), then with the long side towards you, roll the pastry sideways over itself about three time, to form a cigar shape
  5. Wet the join where the pastry meets to seal it
  6. Heat the oil in a pan and fry several of the pastries at a time until golden

P.S. You can also cut the pastry into triangle shapes and fold the same way too

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