You might not be aware of this so I am providing a sort of public service announcement: “The epic shortage of square knishes in the United States should soon be over- keep the faith.”
How did this happen? And more importantly to some of you – what the hell is a knish and why are square ones so critical to our well-being and happiness? Let me enlighten those who are uninitiated to the pleasures of eating this gastronomic delight .
“Knish” – the etymology can be traced back to Eastern European words for a snack food consisting of a bun or dumpling covered with a shell of baked or fried dough. Other cultures have similar variations of this treat – the Italian Calzone, the Russian Pirozhki, Polish Pierogi and the Latin American Empanada. The earliest versions most likely were filled with meat or cabbage; however the focus of this post is the potato version which appeared in The New World around 1900 during the influx of Eastern European immigrants to North America, and more specifically New York where street vendors set up their carts. The knish came in various shapes and sizes- small bite size appetizers (my mother-in-law was famous for her tiny square “little soldiers” knishes) to almost sandwich sized, square and round.
Around this time, the Gabay’s, an immigrant family from an Eastern European area to be known later as Yugoslavia, began selling their knishes in the Lower East side of Manhattan. Competition was fierce, and the Gabay’s tried to distinguish themselves by offering a fried square knish rather than the round baked ones offered by rivals. The family was in doubt, however that this enterprise would be successful, so they tried to distance the family from the product by picking a name from the phone book – and that’s how Gabila’s Knishes were created. And voila – the fried knish was a smash hit!
From this humble beginning Gabila’s grew into a massive undertaking – mass production began in 1928 when the family moved production into a factory in Williamsburg Brooklyn where it remained until 2006 when the company moved to Copiague. Expansion across the country continued and now over 13 million knishes are now made every year – and to paraphrase another marketer, “Over a billion served!”
So 115 days ago when a fire broke out in the exhaust fan of the factory effectively shutting down ALL of Gabila’s square knish production, the sound of anguish could be heard far and wide. Passionate knish lovers have been shaken to the core without access to their beloved snack.
Now you might query- “Why not eat another type of knish- surely there are lots of choices”? Alas, my readers, there are Knish Wars and the combatants are just as zealous as any found in the struggle between IOS vs Android, Instagram vs Snapchat and so on – so it is Gabila’s or bust.
Repairs were supposed to have been finished in early December 2013, but unfortunately the company is still waiting for a replacement knish machine. Delivery is expected this week, but with a new snow storm and arctic vortex headed our way, this deadline may not be met.
UPDATE: FERUARY 6, 2014
THE DROUGHT IS SOON OVER! GABILLA’S FACTORY IN COPIAGUE HAS JUST RECEIVED THE LONG AWAITED CUSTOM-MADE MACHINE FOR ITS DEARLY BELOVED SQUARE KNISH. SINCE SEPTEMBER WE HAVE BEEN DEPRIVED OF THIS DELICIOUS TIDBIT- BUT SOON WE CAN GORGE ONCE AGAIN!
IN THE IMMORTAL WORDS OF THE CANDY FACTORY MANAGER IN I LOVE LUCY’S HIGHLY WATCHED EPISODE:
5 thoughts on “UPDATE: Crisis is over! Going Back to Square One- the Saga of the Knish”
In MA meat is the knish if choice. The famous, maybe not the original, was a company named Meyers. I believe in Revere. I will make them next time you come so you can cast a vote.
It’s a deal – Gabriela’s also makes a great kasha knish but the fire only affected the potato variety – thanks for your comment! This is fun!
Has The Gabila’s knish recipe been the same since the beginning. Where in the LES? Or Billburg? I wonder what is there today. It would be really fun to take a walking/food tour of LES. Have you done it?
Enjoyed your story very much. Made me want one.
THe factory is now in Copiague – I have done a tour of the Union Square area but not one of the LES- will check to see if there is one and let you know – would be fun to do it together!
Thanks for the comments – keep them coming!
also- I imagine there has been some slight variations to the recipe since its inception in Russia- but their fried versus baked is what put them on the map! They are delish!