Obsessions, From Street Food to Rooftops

Exerted from NYTimes, Oct 3, 2014

Mano Hirsch at his shop in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, is featured in Laura Silver’s book, “Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food.” Credit Courtesy of Pamela Hirsch

Mano Hirsch at his shop in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, is featured in Laura Silver’s book, “Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food.” Credit Courtesy of Pamela Hirsch

In Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food(Brandeis University Press), Ms. Silver, an accomplished food writer inspired by the replacement of Mrs. Stahl’s knishery in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, by a Subway sandwich shop, explores the origins and evolution of the “pillow of filling tucked into a skin of dough.”

Her book brims with nostalgia (including the lyrics to the Samuel J. Tilden High School alma mater), a recipe for Mrs. Stahl’s signature potato pie, a guide to where to still get a good knish and a bow to the beloved comestible’s universality (think empanadas, samosas, gyoza and calzones).

“So ingrained was the knish in New York life that its name doubled as a litmus test for authentic New Yorker status,” Ms. Silver writes. “Mispronunciation” — the “k” in “knish” is not silent — “could trigger the same response as a cold knish: disappointment, revulsion and a jabbing sense of missed opportunity. Or perhaps worse. An icy knish can at least be reheated.”

In interviews with former customers of Gabila’s and Shatzkin’s and Yonah Schimmel’s, Ms. Silver writes, “the more I mentioned knishes to Jews of a certain age, the more stories I discovered lodged just beneath the skin.”