After the Gabila’s Knish factory fire plunged New York City into a full-on knish shortage earlier this year, Grub Street decided to take an inventory of the city’s iconic foods and rank them by endangeredness. Five Jewish classics made the list: “real” bagels, bialys, old-fashioned seltzer, stuckel and gribenes.
What is stuckel, you ask? I have no idea, but apparently it’s garlicky and can be found at Katz’s Deli. Gribenes are chicken skins and onions crisped in chicken fat–alternately classified as the kosher equivalent to pork rinds or bacon–which you might recognize as a staple of the Sammy’s Roumanian dinner experience, usually swirled with chopped liver or alone as a schmaltzy side dish.
Alas, not all endangered foods fared so well, Grub Street found, but hope springs eternal:
Some things, we’ve discovered, have gone the way of the Carolina parakeet and the woolly mammoth. (Rest in peace, Nesselrode pie.) The good news is we found many authentic versions of old classics going strong or at least hanging on, as well as some loose or newfangled interpretations of dishes that, although they might rankle purists, are nevertheless a step in the right preservationist direction.
Perhaps the most tragic of the bunch is old-fashioned seltzer, the kind that has bite, which has been facing its potentially imminent demise for more than three decades. Once a fixture in every Jewish home on the Lower East Side, seltzer deliveries declined dramatically in the 1980s as tastes adjusted to the plastic-infused commercial versions of the drink, and today those iconic glass bottles with old-school metal siphon tops are almost obsolete.
For more about “real” seltzer, watch this lovely documentary about Walter Backerman, a third-generation seltzer man who continues his family’s tradition despite dwindling demands.
Rachel Silberstein is a writer living in New York.