Kreplach. Eaten for Yom Kippur.
Hmm I expected to see Peroigies?
My search for a taste of this Jewish dumpling started with a random google search. Dumplings exist in every culture and it is always really interesting to explore the differences- how thick is the dough? what’s in the filling? Are they pan fried, steamed or boiled? Are they served with a sauce or not, or in a soup or not?
I grew up eating dumplings (in Korean, mandu) in Seoul, Korea as my grandmother made the best home-made mandu, and she still does. She would generally use a store-bought, round wrappers (flour and water) and make her own fillings, and I remember helping her out with making the mandu. Mandu soup is not necessarily linked to a holiday in Korea, though many families make a version of Mandu soup for New Year’s Day, but that is for another day.
My grandmother’s mandu’s were always perfect and it was so easy to spot the ones I made because they were like the ugly ducklings! Her fillings generally have ground beef, ground pork, spring onions, cabbages, seasoned with soy sauce and sesame oil. I like it when the mandu’s are served in a soup- usually from beef and bone marrow, which gives the broth a slightly milk-like color. The soup is served with pieces of seaweed and beaten and fried eggs on top. If you are familiar with Chinese wonton soup, this would be the Korean version, so to speak- below photos show the Korean mandu soup on the left with the garnishes, and the Chinese wonton soup on the right. Delicious!
Just like bread, dumplings probably arose in multiple cultures independently, but the dumplings recorded in Korean history originated from China. According to this story, Zhughe Liang (181-234 AD), who was an important figure during Chinese Three Kingdoms period, and his army faced harsh weather on their way back from conquering what is currently Vietnam. He was advised to sacrifice 49 people to the nature god to calm the weather, and instead, he made 49 dumplings in the shape of heads and were able to return home safely. Dumplings made its way to Korea towards the end of Goryo dynasty (918-1392 AD).
Interestingly enough, the origin of dumplings in China is known to be quite different. According to the most popular version they were invented by Eastern Han Dynasty’s well-regarded physician Zhang Zhongjing. One winter, Zhang Zhongjing was traveling from a Southern part of China where he worked to the central part where he was from. On the way, he encountered many people with frost bites and to treat them, he cooked mutton with various herbs, and wrapped the mutton pieces in dough to serve the patients. This is where dumplings started.
Who knows, right?
So today’s excursion for me was to taste this Jewish dumpling soup, and I set out to the 2nd Avenue Deli in lower east side of Manhattan. According to “Missing Ingredient, Gone for Good” on New York Times, Kreplach can be fried, or boiled, and can be put in a chicken soup, just like matzo balls. Kreplach also can be triangle, like you can fold a square wrapper into a triangle, or can have the corners crimpled like tortelinis or much like the Korean style dumplings! Regardless of its shape, I wanted to try the version in a soup and experience what I love in Korean cuisine in its Jewish reincarnation.
Two kreplachs, one matzo ball, and some noodles in a bowl of chicken soup with fresh dill on top. The kreplach had thicker dough (wheat flour bound by eggs) than what I have tasted in Korean or Chinese cuisine, and the filling was very finely ground beef with just a hint of sweetness that reminded me of chicken liver pate. Really good!! I don’t know if I would give up matzo balls but I definitely would add kreplach in whenever I can, I thought.
Unsurprisingly, there are a few different stories around the origins of kreplach. But according to excerpts from Encycolpedia of Jewish Food, before kreplach, it appears there was krepish. Before the advent of Yiddish around 1250, the common language of the nascent Ashkenazim in northern France was a form of Old French. Krepish appears to have come from the Old French word crespe (curly/wrinkled), and the German word krapfen (fried). The first recorded krepish is in the 12th century, a small piece of meat wrapped in a dough and fried. It is also recorded that Jews in Eastern Europe made krepish with cheese filling. Around the sixteenth century, Eastern Europeans began making filled pasta and started boiling them, and stopped making krepish. In Eastern Europe, the polish called these pierogi, the Ukrainians called them Varenikes, and Jews in the region called them Kreplach.
Another possible origin is from Central-Asian connection, all the way back to China. It is possible that the idea for meat-filled dumplings had made its way to Europe centuries later, hence making the term “Jewish wonton,” not just a play on words, but a commentary on its gastronomic history. For more information on the origins of kreplach, please refer to http:/courses.hamilton.edu/szimmer/name.)
Korean mandu soup is made throughout the year, though many families eat mandu soup on New Year’s Day among many other food. In Eastern European Jewish communities, kreplach was consumed on four specific holidays: Yom Kippur eve, Hoshanah Rabbah, Purim, and Shavuot. But delving into mandu and kreplach on holidays is for another day!