Jewish foods stir up powerful memories. For some people, it’s Bubbie’s matzah ball chicken soup. Or slicing a golden, delicious challah on Friday night. Who doesn’t love a good prune hamantaschen? And then, there’s the humble knish.
A quick Google defines knish as “an Eastern-European Jewish or Yiddish snack food. It is a dumpling covered with a dough shell that is either baked or fried.”
We suppose that’s technically correct, but a good knish is so much more. Not the square ones in the freezer in the supermarket. Those are mass-produced, flash-fried potato bricks. The best knishes are always baked, not fried. A classic knish is a warm, delicious pocket of golden dough, filled with some variety of onions, potatoes, veggies and more. At the old-school Lipkin’s Bakery at 8013 Castor Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia (it’s worth a field trip just for the knishes, rye and babka) knishes come in a dozen varieties including mushroom, kasha, rice, spinach and sweet cheese.
Our favorite knish story is one that a woman who grew up in Georgia told us. It was before almost every supermarket had an “ethnic foods” aisle. Our friend still remembers the day, more than 50 years ago, when she was in kindergarten and the teacher went around the room, asking each child to name his favorite word starting with the letter “K.”
“Kitten,” said the first child.
“Very good. That’s a K word,” said the teacher.
“Kite,” the second kid replied.
“Good,” said the teacher.
“Knish,” announced our friend proudly.
“That’s not a real word,” the teacher corrected her. “We don’t make up words in kindergarten.”
Our friend still remembers being stunned. She cried. Knishes were certainly real to her. And to anyone who loves Jewish foods.
We can only hope that when she went home that day and told the terrible tale to her family, her mother consoled her with a nice warm hug and knish.