“A filled pastry, either baked or fried,” explained culinary historian, Gil Marks, in his book, “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Foods,” “the knish is a classic example of peasant food evolving into comfort food and even sophisticated fare. The origins of the knish lay in a medieval Slavic fried patty, called knysz in Poland, a peasant dish made from a cooked vegetable, most notably mashed turnips or kasha…” The knysz was adopted by Eastern European Jews and became known as the knish. It was those Jews who brought it to America where it became so popular that in January 1916, The New York Times reported that the “latest scene of war” on Rivington St, was in fact “a knish war” between multiple knish rivals.
A few years later in 1921, Gabila’s entered the scene with their revolutionary square-shaped knish, which unsurprisingly took the world by storm. Their knishes were soon served in delis and sold at street carts across New York; in fact, those square-shaped, fried pillows of dough and potato are still the company’s bestselling item today. “I’d guess that we produce about 50,000 knishes a day,” revealed Mr. Elliot Gabay, current owner and grandson of founder Elia Gabay. “We are the only knish house in the USA, and we receive orders from knish fans all over the country who need their knish fix. Our customers are usually ex-pats from Brooklyn, who miss the knish of their childhood. It’s amazing; people are willing to spend $100 on delivery for a few knishes. Our knishes stay fresh while in transit because of the gas-flushed packaging we use.”
The family-owned business moved from Williamsburg 10 years ago to a factory in Long Island where the smell of knishes frying can be inhaled streets away. It’s not just knishes that Gabila’s is known for but their potato pancakes, matzo balls, kugels, kasha and pickles too. Gabila’s products are sold throughout the tri-state area in the likes of Stop & Shop, Costco and most recently 7-11. They can also be found in supermarkets across the North and Southeast. And latest on the Gabila’s menu is a non-dairy broccoli and cheddar cheese knish that will be featured at Kosherfest this year.
“Eating knishes are all good and well,” Elliot Gabay proclaims, “but you have to eat a knish with mustard!”
By Devorah Paltiel/Kosher Today