Bougatsa (μπουγάτσα) is a Greek pastry (sweet or salty) consisting of either, semolina, custard, cheese or minced meat filling between layers of phyllo. The sweet bougatsa is served with powder sugar and cinnamon on top. The origins of bougatsa could be traced back to Constantinople and Byzantium. The citizens of the city gave the name bougatsa to a certain kind of pie, wanting to probably mean “salty or sweet pie filling, wrapped very well and tightly in the dough”. Bougatsa spread all over Greece after the Asia Minor Catastrophe (in 1922) from Northern Greece to Epirus and from Peloponnese to Crete. However, it was established as a popular snack in Serres and Thessaloniki, due to the fact that a large number of refugees from Asia Minor were relocated to Northern Greece.
During our trip (in June 2020) in the region of Thraki or Thrake (Θράκη), we came across numerous places which make bougatsa. Thraki has its own tradition in bougatsa and the city of Komotini (Κομοτηνή) claims its place in the origin of the pie in Northern Greece along with Serres and Thessaloniki. Cappadokians and Sarakatsani, relocated in the region of Thraki, brought with them their own recipe for bougatsa, which was different from the traditional local Thracian pies and in some cases it is referred to as Sarakatsianiki bougatsa (Σαρακατσιάνικη μπουγάτσα). The difference from other versions of bougatsa could be the way the phyllo is prepared, which makes it thinner and fluffier.
Our five top picks for bougatsa, if you happen to travel in Thraki are the following :
Nea Anixi (Η Νέα Άνοιξη) – Xanthi (Ξάνθη) : Just next to the central square of the city, this place has been serving perfect bougatsa for decades and it is always crowded with locals. The phyllo is crunchy and the pies are always freshly baked. The cheese filling is creamy and not very salty, while the custard filling is soft and sweet. This is the perfect snack after a long walk around the streets of the wonderful Old City of Xanthi. (Thermopylon 1, Xanthi)
Ieronymos (Ιερώνυμος) – Komotini (Κομοτηνή) : In the centre of the city, this is one of the places that justify the claim that in Komotini you could taste one of the best bougatsas in Greece. With a family history that started in 1988, this place stands out among the numerous places that produce bougatsa in the city. Apart from the classic cheese and cream pies, here you could also find excellent bougatsa with kasseri, which came to be our personal favourite. Very good is also the one with minced meat. (Androutsou 40, Komotini)
Bougatsa Zafra (Μπουγάτσα Ζαφρά) – Alexandroupoli (Αλεξανδρούπολη) : For the citizens of Alexandroupoli, one of the things that make you a true native, is to have eaten bougatsa at Zafra. The extra thin and not at all oily phyllo is perfect. The pies are always fresh and the store stays open until late at the night. We ate here tasty and not very spicy bougatsa with minced meat. If you are visiting Alexandroupoli, this is one that should be on your bucket list. (Kountouriotou 11, Alexandroupoli)
Neon (Το Νέον) – Didymoteicho (Διδυμότειχο) : The city of Didymoteicho is not a very popular touristic destination and it is basically known for the military camps of the area. However, after a short visit to the very interesting castle of the city, we stumbled upon this small unpretentious place and we decided to please our appetite with a traditional bougatsa. The bougastsa with cheese was a total delight. The local cheese was so tasty, while the phyllo was crunchy and baked perfectly. The sweet bougatsa with cream and a ton of powder sugar and cinnamon on top was also excellent. (Vasileos Alexandrou 15, Didymoteicho)
Boglas (Ο Μπόγλας) – Feres (Φέρες) : We discovered this place after a visit to the world-famous monastery of Panagia Kosmosoteira in the city of Feres (see here our related article about the monastery). And what a discovery that was. The smell of fresh-baked bougatsa was all over the neighbourhood and the phyllo had a perfect yellow colour. All the different variations of bougatsa looked tempting but we finally go for the traditional sweet cream filling, which was probably the tastiest of all the others we had tried in Thraki. (Orfeos, Feres)
No need to argue if the best bougatsa could be found in Serres, Thessaloniki or Komotini, you would taste perfect fresh bougatsa with various fillings all over Northern Greece and you should thank the Greek immigrants who brought with them this excellent delicacy that it is no part of our tradition.
*[All photos are from iStock]