“Have you had Knish before?”
I had never heard of knish. What is knish? It doesn’t even sound like real food. The natural go-to place for this knish in New York City was Zabar’s, Aaron’s favorite place in the whole world.
Apparently it did not used to be this way. Knish was sold on the streets of New York City like hot dogs and chicken skewers of today, and people bought them to eat on the streets, and warm up their hands on a cold day. It was also sold on the beach, according to New York Times article in 2003 “Urban Tactics; Where are the Knishes of Yesteryear?” The origins of knish is largely unknown, except that it was eaten in Poland sometime in 1300s until 1600s. However, knish has disappeared in Poland of today. Laura Silver, who wrote a book on the origins of Knish has gone to Poland herself, walked around with a picture of knish and could not find anyone who recognized it.
Zabar’s has all kinds of knish- round and square one, filled with potatoes, mushrooms, spinach, broccoli and cheese as well as kasha (buckwheat). These are all sold baked, while knish can technically be fried. The knish of the day for me was potato and onion knish, and I warmed it up in the oven after we got home. The filling is creamy and savory, like delicious mashed potato inside a dough. Delicious! It also reminded me of a Korean parallel- Ho Ppang.
Ho ppang is a steamed flour-dough filled with sweet red beans and vegetables. Now, there are all kinds of ho ppang, filled with curry flavored meat, pizza flavored meat, etc, but sweet red bean was always my favorite filling as a child.”Ho” in the sound of a person blowing on cold hands to make them warm in Korean, and the name originated from this word. Actually, h0 ppang was a brand name from the company that created it for the first time, after the CEO’s visit to Japan and seeing a similar product sold on the streets.
Ho ppang has been made since the US military brought in flour to Korea in 1950s. However, Ho ppangs were sold only at casual restaurants (deli equivalent) until 1970s. Ho ppang became a product that can be mass produced and distributed in 1971. The dough is completely white and fluffy, but it does not have any strong flavors, lacking butter or sugar. Now, Ho ppang is sold in convenience stores, like what we see in the US, hot dogs at Seven Eleven, and frozen at grocery stores for people to take home and heat up.
This was my favorite winter snack growing up, and I remember walking into the house from the cold and happily noshing on red bean ho ppang with a glass of milk.