NYC’s Balkan restaurants share culture, traditions with classic dishes

Djerdan Burek, a restaurant that was started over

“Most cultures have some kind of crispy, melty combination of bread and cheese: for Italy, it’s pizza; for the United Kingdom, it’s the toastie; for Brazil, it’s pao de queijo. And for the lesser-known “Balkans,” it’s the burek. Reminiscent of Greek spanakopita, burek is a flaky, layered phyllo dough pie that can be filled with the likes of cheese, beef, spinach, potato or apple. (…) Djerdan Burek, with locations in Astoria, Brooklyn and a factory in New Jersey, was started more than 20 years ago by Esma and Hamo Medunjanin, refugees from Bosnia. It was a true mom-and-pop shop then, according to daughter Selma Medunjanin-Ismajli, who took over the business with her two siblings when their parents retired.”

Back in the late 1990s her mother was making burek pies at home in their one-bedroom apartment and selling them to a local Balkan restaurant, and her father saw an opportunity. They rented a building on 34th St. and 31st Ave. in Astoria — where the restaurant is still located — and her mother worked the kitchen while her father worked the floor.”

“At this time many Bosnian refugees had settled in Astoria and not much was available to them,” Medunjanin-Ismajli explained. “We were one of the first Balkan restaurants to start up in the area. It was a very simple mom-and-pop restaurant with homemade food and friendly familiar service. To this day we try to operate and maintain the same principles and service.”

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Pastrami Is the Priority at These Old-School New Jersey Delis

For all the talk of authentic Jewish delis going extinct, a few still take great pride in their pastrami.  A pastrami sandwich at Harold’s New York Deli Restaurant in Edison, New Jersey weighs 20 ounces.  The triple-decker at Harold’s weighs in at 3.5 pounds!  Sharing is thankfully encouraged with no fee.

The owner Harold Jaffe says that the deli sells 8,000 pounds of pastrami a week (all of which is made at the restaurant).  Mr. Jaffe learned the business by working at the Carnegie Deli in Manhattan for ten years.

Customers enjoy bar that offers slices of rye bread, half-sours, spicy pickle chips and health salad (cabbage mixed with oil and vinegar).

The Kosher Nosh is another deli located in Glen Rock, New Jersey, and has been in business for 40 years.  The store is run by Avi Friede and Haim Peer, both originally from Israel.  Mr, Friede says that by selling pastrami, lox, corned beef and other traditional deli foods, he is getting back to his Eastern European food roots.

Hobby’s Delicatessen and Restaurant in Newark, New Jersey was purchased by Sam Brummer in 1962 and passed on to his sons Marc and Michael.  The sons were taught to buy quality goods, prepare the goods well, provide excellent service and be a mensch (a person of integrity and honor).  The pastrami sandwich is the restaurant’s best seller, even with a 12-page menu.  According to Michael Brummer, there is one thing as important as properly steaming and slicing meat: schmoozing.

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