Thursday, May 1, 2014

6 Reasons a Knish is Better than a Bagel

And now for a fight we're pretty sure nobody asked for. But a fight that simply can't go unpicked.

Already you're shaking your head. There's just no way the bagel takes a back seat to the knish. Right?

We've thought about it, and we're so convinced the knish is the better of the two Jewish baked goods, we've decided that the entire month of May shall be dubbed Knish Month. (Ahem, #knishmonth.) The delicious designation is, of course, in honor of the May release of Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food, by Laura Silver, a lovingly written paean to the humble, hearty knish., undisputedly the world's leading expert on knish, uncovers the popular history and cultural impact of this potatoey pastry—not to be confused with its cousins the blintz, pierogi, dumpling (which we'll cover in a later post), and certainly not the bagel.

Lest you think we're crazy, read these reasons why the knish is having its moment. Then go get a knish. (Eat the knish.) Then find and fall for Laura Silver's Knish. Then tell us we're crazy.

1. Knish is an acceptable meal.
No one's saying a fresh-baked, pillowy, crispy-on-the-outside bagel is a bad thing, but don't fool yourself into thinking that's a smart way to start your day—it has zero nutritional value. But a knish? Stuffed with potatoes, it's an excellent source of potassium and Vitamin C. If you go with a meat-filled knish, there's your boost of protein! And you know what: with a knish you still get to have something fresh-baked, pillowy, and crispy-on-the-outside.

2. Knish has standards.
Whereas a bagel doesn't care if it's a day old, cold, tied up in a plastic sleeve and marked down for clearance, a knish simply demands to be eaten piping hot, straight out of the oven—and at least once in your life sears the roof of your mouth so you'll always be able to say it was worth the pain.

3. Knish is a welcome change of pace.
Knishes have been made and sold in New York City for well over a century, but like most things worth their weight in gold, you've got to know where to find them—from the legendary Yonah Schimmel's on the Lower East Side to Knish Nosh on Queens Blvd. Unlike the bagel, whose ubiquity makes it almost as easy to find a meh one as it is to find a good one.

Who's the more insulted, the bagel or the pizza?
4. Knish remembers from whence it came.
A bite out of a knish is—and always will be—a bite out of tradition, a nod to the strivers of the Jewish community on New York's Lower East Side in the early 1900s, as well as a loving gesture to the old world of the knish's origins. In her book, Laura Silver travels to Jerusalem, Paris, and parts of Poland, tracing not only the enigmatic roots of the knish, but a lineage of Jews for whom this pastry symbolizes the bonds of family. Silvers writes, "In Aramaic, 'a knish,' or rather aknish, meant a coming together, a joining of people, a community."

Now, the bagel's history is no less inspiring, but look at what we've done to it. "Old world" and "handmade" are the furthest things from our minds when we're made to wait in a line at Panera, trying to choose between sesame seed and pumpkin-spice-walnut-crunch or whatever else is in that thing.

5. In a 'food porn' face-off, knish always wins.

All right, the bagels do look pretty good.

6. You can put mustard on a knish.
And mustard beats cream cheese every day. (Lox is cheating.) 

Be sure to head over to Laura Silver's website,, a working shrine to everything you ever wanted to know about the knish—a knishipedia, if you will. Find knish recipes, contribute your own personal knish story, locate U.S. knisheries on a map, see where Laura will be promoting Knish this summer, and weigh in on the only other knish debate that matters: round versus square!

Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food, by Laura Silver is on sale now.

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