Bougatsa is said to originate in the city of Serres, an art of pastry brought with the immigrants from Constantinople and is most popular in Thessaloniki, in the Central Macedonia region of Northern Greece. Bougatsa is also popular in Veria and Halkidiki (also in northern Greece) and Chania and Iraklion in the island of Crete. In Chania, it is called “bougatsa Chanion” and is made by special pastry shops usually open from early morning until noon. The most common filling is a sweet semolina custard. Common savory fillings include mizithra cheese or minced meat. In Iraklion, the most famous is made by shops on Morosini Square, by the descendants of Armenian refugees from Asia Minor.
The taste of bougatsa varies between regions of Greece. For example, bougatsa in Veria is very sweet and full of cream, while in Thessaloniki it is crunchy and not that sweet.
The name comes from the Byzantine Greek πογάτσα, from the ancient Roman panis focacius; c.f. Italian focaccia, Turkish poğaça, etc.
Greek bougatsa is prepared from phyllo dough wrapped around a filling. After it is baked, it is cut into serving pieces and served hot. If the filling is semolina custard, then the pastry may be lightly dusted with powdered sugar and/or cinnamon.
Most modern bougatsa is made with machine-made phyllo, but some cafes and bakeries selling hand-made bougatsa still exist, especially in smaller towns and villages of Greece.
The city of Serres achieved the record for the largest puff pastry on 1 June 2008. It weighed 182.2kg, was 20 metres long, and was made by more than 40 bakers.
The process of making bougatsa by hand was featured on an episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations filmed in Greece.