It’s frustrating not to speak Polish. And when I’ve had moments of (hopefully imperceptible) rage as in: What?! You kicked out my people and now insist on speaking in a language I don’t understand?
Of course it’s not the fault of the people in front of me, speaking a beautifully poetic language with declensions and causatives and forms of speech I can’t even name. After my first trip to Poland in 1990, I bought a ton of kids’ books, had my friend write key phrases in my notebook and even sat in on a few Polish classes at the University of Massachusetts. But ultimately I stuck with French and dove into Hebrew. I remember a few Polish phrases, mostly survival stuff like “Where is…?,” “How much?” and “I don’t understand Polish.”
So, yep, I needed to hire someone to translate this knish article from the February 2010 edition of Nowy Goniec Knsyznski (The New Knyszyn Messenger). The NYU Polish club came to the rescue. Thank you. Or, rather: dzienkuje barzo.
By Ewelina Sadowska
Translation by Karol Kurzatkowski
Unfortunately Knyszyn’s multi-century history gave way to few local customs and traditions, and no obvious culinary specialties. Therefore it’s especially unfortunate that many historians believe that name of our city comes from a culinary dish…
The New York Knish
A knish is a classic Eastern European dish. It’s difficult to pinpoint its origins, as it is eaten in countries like Belarus, Lithuania and in the Ukraine.
The most popular knishes are probably made in the New York. A Jewish immigrant teacher named Yonah Schimmel began producing and selling the knishes there in 1890. He originally sold the knishes on the beach with a mobile cart. Many well-known American films from the 70s feature carts filled with knishes that could be found on most city streets. One popular cart operator became legendary to many New Yorkers as Ruby.
Yonah Schimmel decided to expand his business and established his owned bakery. He originally managed the bakery with his cousin, but later managed the bakery on his own. The small company was originally located on Houston Street, and Schimmel moved to Manhattan in 1910.
The eatery, operated by his children, still exists to the present day, where, along with knishes, one can feast on borscht. The appearance of the eatery hasn’t changed much over the past hundred years; the knishes and not the appearance of the place or building is what is important. The building’s beautiful red façade is still etched in Manhattan’s landscape, fitting its surrounding environment while serving as an inspiration to artists.
Is “Knyszyn” Linked to Knishes?
It is really difficult to answer this question. Laura Silver, a researcher from New York, has been searching for the roots of the knish. She is conducting research on the origins of the knish, looking for the source of its origins while exploring the food’s long history. The explorations led her to Knyszyn this past September. She took a look at archived photos, and visited the city: the train station and the house on Church Street as well as the Jewish cemetery; accompanied by Tomasz Wisniewski, well-known historian and collector of Jewish artifacts. She met with regional representatives Henry Stasiewicz, Tomasz Krawczuk, and Krzysztof Baginski.
They amazed her with legends of knishes, including legends of the origins of the city’s name, the history of the city, and the fate of many of the city’s residents. She gained particularly useful insight for her research from the city’s residents, including insight which has been published in our magazine.
After last year’s meeting in Knyszyn, Laura Silver continues her research and would like to visit Knyszyn once again. It is possible that she will visit Knyszyn in August or September of this year. She has already received an invitation to continue her research from Knyszyn’s regional representative Zygmunt August.
A short film on Laura Silver’s visit to Knyszyn can be viewed at http://bit.ly/knyszyn_journey.
Thoughts on the Knyszyn Knish?
A knysz (knish) in its own right is a bread-pierogi. It is consumed on its own, as an appetizer (dipped in mustard) though it can be served along with meat or with soup. The bread-like portion of the knish contains a filling, which is traditionally buckwheat groats or potatoes. The many different types of fillings offer culinary freedom in preparing the knish.
Yonah Schimmel’s knishes originally offered very little variety, as potato and buckwheat were the only available options. Today, knishes with vegetables, spinach, sauerkraut, mushroom, and sweet potato (not available in our area) can be ordered.
The Wroclaw Knish
Though they sound alike, they look and taste completely differently: ‘knysz’ and ‘knysza’ (knisha) are two totally different dishes.
‘Knysza’ originates from the Far East, just like the pita and kebab known in Turkey, Armenia, and India. In Poland, it is sold as a fast food, which has deviated significantly from its eastern origins. A kebab includes gyros (meat cooked in a rotating oven). In a knysza, just like in pita, the meat is in the form of a cutlet; in the center, other forms of meat such as sausages or fishes can be found, as well as grated cheese. It can be differentiated from pita based on its shape and on its thickness. The inside of a knysza contains meat, vegetables as well as sauces. A common characteristic of the knysza is that it is sprinkled with baked onions.
Just like in Bialystok, kebabs can be found everywhere in Wroclaw, served in red booths at bus and train stations, markets and the University of Wroclaw campus. Though some have christened Wroclaw as the ultimate source of the knysza (just like in Olsztyn, where the standard fast food is the zapiekanka – a slice of Italian style bread covered in red sauce, mushrooms and cheese), the knysza can be found almost anywhere. You will find them in Krakow, or in Zabrze (they are there referred to as ‘jarosz’), or in Bialystok (for those interested, behind the ‘Cristal’).
RECIPE: Knysz with Sauerkraut
3 glasses of wheat
5 dekagrams yeast (about three rounded tablespoons)
1 egg yolk
Half bar of butter
Half glass of milk
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspspoon salt
Half a head of cabbage
Half bar of cottage/curd cheese
Spoon of butter
Mix sugar and yeast and immerse in warmed milk. Put on the side to allow the yeast to grow. When the leavening doubles in size, add flour, eggs, salt and melted butter. Knead the dough until it no longer sticks to your hands, adding flour if necessary. When done, put it aside to allow to rise for about an hour.
Tear apart the cabbage, place it into water, add a bouillon cube and cook until the cabbage is soft. Glaze onions on butter and add it to the cooked cabbage. Mix it with the cottage cheese and prepare for serving.
Make flattened balls from the dough and place the filling in the middle, leaving enough room on the ends to create ends (the filling is on the top). Glaze the entire product with egg yolk. Place onto a baking pan and bake for 30 minutes at 175 Celsius.
One can serve knysz with warmed butter, which can be used for dipping prior to eating.