Falling in love can happen over a long period of time: you get pulled into the relationship as you get to know the person you're dating, and one day, you realize you were in love all along. Other times, it's love at first sight: there's a sudden and compulsory click, and the rest is history.
When I met Ms. Bougatsa, Greek as anything, soft, flavorful, sweet, and creamy, I knew that it was love at first sight. It happened in Chania, Crete, the very next day Viktoria and I had arrived. I thought that my love affair would be restricted to my stay in Crete, but Ms. Bougatsa followed me to Santorini, Paros, Athens, and Napflio. I was hooked. It didn't get any better for Viktoria, as she was hooked as well. Maybe it was for the best, as I could share with her my pleasure and guilt of not being able to resist the temptation. Viktoria has a sweet tooth, just like me.
Bougatsa (in Greek: Μπουγάτσα) is a traditional dessert of Greek and Turkish cuisine consisting of a sweet semolina cream or mizithra cheese between two layers of filo pastry.
I don't know how to make bougatsa, and frankly, I'm not concerned about it at all. In my opinion, some people are meant to prepare food and others to eat it. Let's let the Greek people do what they do best, and this sweet and savory treat is no exception. Indeed, to have the best bougatsa, one must go where it originated. I know from experience, because my brother, who owns a successful bakery in Florence, Italy, has told me many times that he would not be able to replicate the flavorful bread in America, because the uniqueness of the water in Italy is one of the irreplaceable ingredients that make his Tuscan bread the best in Florence. You can read more about my brother's famous bakery in our blog next week.
Our first encounter with bougatsa was in Chania, in what is considered the oldest pastry shop in town, Iordanis, that has been baking fresh bougatsa daily since 1922. We got there as soon as we got out of bed our first day in Chania, with our eyes still half-closed and jetlagged. One of the owners – I believe one of the sons – served us the pastries along with their aromatic Greek coffee. We spoke few words – my limited Greek "efcharistíes" (thank you) and his broken English. I could tell right away that these people take pride in what they do, and their tradition in making sure that the food they serve is uncompromisingly simple and genuine.
My advice is to try bougatsa at Iordanis, the only way it's served here, with flour, water, olive oil, myzithra, salt and sugar, the latter one only added before serving it. After that, you are ready to explore other versions, like the one we tried in Paros with white cream and Napflio with chocolate cream.
Viktoria and I enjoy reminiscing with pictures with us licking our lips after a bite of freshly made bougatsa, and we know that one day we will be back in Greece, even if it is only to fall in love with this tasty treat once more.
~ Written by: Viktoria Rusnakova & Samuele Bagnai, authors of Enthusiastic All the Way & Tuscan Who Sold His Fiat to the Pope, respectively.
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