[tasty review] the knish war on rivington street by joanne oppenheim and jon davis

To knish or not to knish?

Believe it or not, I’ve never eaten a knish. Woe is me and my sheltered life!

(click for Mrs. Stahl’s Potato Knish recipe)

My dear knish, how I long to wrap my lips around your flaky- dough-wrapped mashed potato and fried onion goodness! I was born to love you, as I do all dumplings. I know I’ve dallied with your knishin’ cousins in the past — Cornish pasties, empanadas, samosas, calzone — but you are the only one featured in a brand new picture book, a spirited, savory story that clearly shows why you are worth “fighting” for. How I dream of strolling into a kosher bakery and snatching you up!

The Knish War on Rivington Street by Joanne Oppenheim and Jon Davis (Albert Whitman, 2017) takes us to NYC’s Lower East Side in the early 20th century.

When Benny and his family came to America, his mama baked delicious knishes, round dumplings filled with kasha, cheese, or potatoes, which his papa sold from a pushcart. Soon they were able to open a little store, a knishery, the first of its kind on Rivington Street.

Everyone loved Molly’s knishes, quite a “tasty bargain” at 5 cents each! All was well until the Tisch family opened their knishery right across the street. Mrs. Tisch’s knishes were fried and square, and what’s more, they were advertised as being “Famous” and priced at only 4 cents each.

Well, Papa wasn’t going to let anyone put them out of business. He made a new sign for the shop window, touting Molly’s knishes as “the only real and original” ones, and lowered his price to 4 cents.

When the Tisches lowered their price to only 3 cents each, it was all out war. Benny and Solly Tisch paraded up and down Rivington Street with their placards. Papa began handing out raffle coupons with every purchased knish. Naturally Mr. Tisch did the same.

They stepped things up with music. When Papa bought a player piano, Mr. Tisch bought a new Victrola. They lowered their prices again. There were so many customers Papa expanded the shop to twice its size, and hired an oompah-pah band to celebrate. Mr. Tisch made his knishery “even bigger and fancier, and for the grand opening, he hired an all-ladies orchestra.”

More and more customers flocked to Rivington Street. The neighbors began to complain about all the noise and mayhem. But Papa was more determined than ever. He told Benny to give out free samples. Of course the Tisches followed suit. Would this battle of knishes ever end?

One day police cars drove up and out stepped the Mayor. He wanted to know what all the fuss was about. Benny and Solly confirmed that it was all about knishes.

The Mayor decided to settle the fight once and for all by tasting the knishes to decide which ones were best — Molly’s round baked knishes, or Mrs. Tisch’s square fried ones.

Everyone held their breath as the Mayor sampled the different varieties, round and square, potato, kasha, cheese. Finally, he threw up his hands and declared, “It’s impossible!” It was like choosing between the sun and the moon — neither was better, both were needed. And so it was with knishes — the city was certainly big enough to have more than one knishery, and both families could continue to make a living this way.

The Mayor asked them to try each other’s knishes, and they agreed — though they weren’t quite the same, both kinds were good. The Mayor then declared Rivington Street “The Knish Capital of the World.”

Everyone likes a good competition, and Oppenheim’s lively storytelling will hook readers from page one. Jon Davis has populated Rivington Street with amiable characters donning period garb, and he effectively captures the buzz and bustle of the neighborhood with its spirit of earnest entrepreneurship.

Keen eyes will enjoy reading Oppenheim’s clever rhyming signage:




Taking pride in one’s work, participating in a healthy competition, and realizing that sometimes there doesn’t necessarily have to be a “best,” but instead, more than one kind of “good thing,” are inspiring themes for young readers to chew on, and gives this tasty slice of historical fiction contemporary relevance. Competition is good because it gives the consumer choices, as it accommodates personal preferences and keeps prices affordable.

Mini Sweet Potato Knishes via Joy of Kosher

So, was there really a knish war on Rivington Street? As Oppenheim explains in her Author’s Note, she was inspired to write this story by a 1916 New York Times article, describing two rival knisheries on Rivington Street. Max Green claimed to have invented the knish and opened his shop before Mr. London’s across the street. The two competed with coupons, but the article didn’t say how or if the competition between businesses was resolved.

Max Green didn’t really invent the knish — no one knows for sure who did. But we do know that knishes were brought to this country by Eastern European Jewish immigrants from countries such as Poland, Russia, and the Ukraine. Traditional varieties were filled with potato and onion, kasha (buckwheat groats), cheese, chicken livers, and mushrooms.

Today there are both sweet and savory knishes, round and baked, square and fried, and filled with almost anything you can imagine — ground beef, broccoli, sweet potato, sauerkraut, tofu, fruit, and spinach. They also vary in size — from substantial tummy fillers to hors d’oeuvre-size minis, and they’re sold by street vendors in urban areas, Jewish delis, bakeries, and some supermarkets.

Gabila’s famous fried knishes on sale at Katz’s

If you’re a native New Yorker,  you probably know all about Yonah Schimmel’s on East Houston Street ( same location since 1910). Like Papa in Oppenheim’s story, Mr. Schimmel (a Romanian immigrant) first sold his knishes from a pushcart before opening his own knishery. Yonah Schimmel’s is still a family-run business, a landmark bakery and restaurant that celebrates the rich Eastern European immigrant heritage of the Lower East Side.

One day soon I hope to taste an authentic homemade knish, but meanwhile, let’s drool over these samples from Yonah Schimmel’s:

From top left clockwise: Potato, Kasha, Mixed Vegetable, Mushroom

Mmmmmm . . . my kingdom for a knish!


written by Joanne Oppenheim
illustrated by Jon Davis
published by Albert Whitman, August 2017
Picture Book for ages 4-8, 32 pp.
*Includes Author’s Note and Recipes for Baked and Fried Potato Knishes

♥ Visit Joanne Oppenheim’s Official Website (includes a great Q&A about the book, as well as several interesting blog posts with knish backstories).

♥ Check out the Activity Guide at the publisher’s website (scroll down to Activities and Resources).



*Interior spreads posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2017 Joanne Oppenheim, illustrations © 2017 Jon Davis, published by Albert Whitman & Co. All rights reserved.

**Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

46 thoughts on “[tasty review] the knish war on rivington street by joanne oppenheim and jon davis

  1. I love knishes, and have tried to make them, even using a purported recipe from Yonah Schimmel! Alas, having to shape food doesn’t work well for me. But I’m happy to support the knish industry by buying them! :–)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I figure I need to try an authentic knish before I even attempt to make my own — to make sure what they’re supposed to taste like. 🙂 Since I’ve made apple dumplings, I imagine this would be similar.


  2. Potato knishes are delish! I haven’t had them since I was a teen, growing up in New Jersey. We had a wonderful deli nearby, the Suburban deli in Colonia. Now that I live in Allentown, PA, there are no delicatessens, only large grocery chains. My mother used to buy knishes for our family at the holidays. How I miss those days! Now, my mother is 91, my father and sister are both deceased, but I have good memories of my family celebrating the Jewish holidays. Always, food was an important part of our get-togethers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like you need to find some knishes again. There are several delis here in the DC area that supposedly sell them, but some of them use puff pastry — which doesn’t seem authentic to me. Since starting this blog, I’ve really enjoyed learning more about Jewish holidays and the various foods that are served. I’ve been joking that I need to find a Jewish grandmother to adopt me. Well, maybe not really joking . . . 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. When I visit my daughter and her family, we go to a Jewish deli. I plan to order a knish next time, in honor of your blog and Joanne Oppenheim and Jon Davis’s scrumptious book!!! In this case, I AM the Jewish grandmother!


    1. You think “you’re” hungry? I’m famished after writing this review, looking up Yonah Schimmel’s shop and reading various knish recipes. 🙂


  3. I just checked out this book at the library. Having loved knishes for a long time, I couldn’t resist. Until your post, I hadn’t read the story yet, Jama, but what fun it is! And the illustrations take us back to that time, delightful! I’ve never made them, but love, too, the story of Yonah Schimmel’s knishery, in the family for so long! Thanks for a delicious post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Didn’t realize you’ve been a longtime knish fan, Linda. Glad your library had the book. Maybe you could try the recipe Joanne included in it and tell us how it compares to other knishes you’ve eaten. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. OMG! I remember savoring hot knishes from Merit Farm stores in the Bronx on frosty winter days, while waiting for the Fordham Road, finishing it off at home with apple sauce on top. I had no idea there were variations… but hey 🤗


    1. What a delicious memory, Joy. I imagine a knish on a cold winter’s day was just what you needed to warm you up. They look hearty and filling. Hmmmm, applesauce. Will make a note of that. 🙂


  5. I personally prefer square to round knishes. One of my favorite childhood memories is being on Brighton Beach and waiting for the knish man. They traveled up and down the beach from Brighton to Coney Island and back with shopping bags full of hot (square) knishes. There’s nothing like a knish split in half, loaded with mustard and salt, put back together and eaten hot. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. I think I know what I’ll have for lunch today.


  6. Yum…this post is making me hungry! I ate many a potato knish in my youth–did not know that anything other than potato could be in a knish (my mother did not make them herself and I’ve never thought about making them–now might be the time to try.)
    Love the combination of food/history/economics/conflict resolution in a picture book. But mostly food.


  7. Wow! Thanks so much for this post about The Knish War on Rivington Street! I might have to make some knishes this afternoon. When I wrote the book I remember wishing that we had recipes at the end. Then, one day the editor asked, “Where are your recipes?” It was one of those lessons about being careful what you wish for. I read many, many, recipes and changed them here and there to make them mine. Of course I had to try them, to be sure they worked and in fact, they were delicious. But, maybe it was beginners luck. I have not tried them twice. But you have made me hungry, too. At the suggestion of my friend Jean Marzollo (I Spy series) I did a teacher’s guide for using the book with early childhood students-it’s on my site if it’s of interest.Thanks again for telling your readers about the book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Joanne! Thanks for writing this wonderful book. You have us all drooling with your knish recipe. I’m so glad you included it in the book — think of how many families can now read your book and make knishes together. They can have their own competition regarding round and baked vs. fried and square. 🙂

      Thanks for mentioning the teacher’s guide (I’ve included a link here to the publisher’s page that links to the downloadable PDF).

      Appreciate your stopping by to comment!


  8. You are killing me here, Jama! I had to try so hard not to drool over my computer keyboard. I guess I need to go find knishes today. Hungry hunter on the street looking for knishes. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can see this post has stirred your foodie cravings. Hope you made it to Yonah Schimmel’s today in time for some fresh knishes. You’re lucky to live in NYC :).


  9. How wonderful to have a “knish book” for children! I haven’t had knishes since my own childhood in what was then “the Jewish part of town” — Rogers Park in Chicago. I look forward to seeing this book, either as a winner or acquiring a copy for my library’s Youth Services Department.


    1. This book will definitely make you crave knishes! Good luck with the giveaway. This is indeed a great addition to any school or public library collection.


  10. Funny… I have indeed had pasties, empanadas, samosas, calzone, pierogi and steamed Chinese buns, but no knishes. It’s just not a West Coast thing, I’m guessing.

    Of course, now I want the sweet potato ones…


  11. I love veggie knishes, but it’s been ages since I had one. This looks like a great book! Thanks for the chance at winning, Jama 🙂


  12. the book sounds delightful. It kind of reminded me of the “The Pushcart Wars” which was a favorite book growing up and I think still has a valid message today. I love the themes of doing the best one can and taking pride and that there is not one way to define “best”.


  13. I’ll see about recommending this for my librarian – it looks delightful!

    Btw, I saw today, when I was going through the picture book section and making sure all was in order, that we have both “Aunt Farm” and “Dumpling Soup.” 😀


  14. Oops , the message I sent you must have disappeared into cyberspace. Just wanted to comment about how delish this book is. Also, to share about fried manapua in Hawaii. Maybe not as healthy as steamed ones but so delicious. Just purchased a hello kitty and a cute doggie designed ones for a friend’s kids.


    1. Hadn’t heard about fried manapua! Are you referring to the big steamed pork bun or the smaller varieties of dim sum that are fried? And there are designs?


  15. I’m more familiar with empanadas from years ago when I lived in Argentina. But when I lived in Burbank, California more recently, they had this Cuban bakery called Porto’s that made lightly fried potato balls with a ground beef filling. Wonderful! I will have to look for the real, knishy deal now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Didn’t realize you’d lived in Argentina! Such a world traveler. Those Cuban potato balls sound good — I’m not familiar with Cuban foods. I’ve heard of pupusas but haven’t yet tried any. So many foods, so little time. 🙂


  16. P.S. And strangely enough, this post also makes me homesick for pupusas, which the mothers of my Salvadoran students in Los Angeles sometimes served me. They are made of cornmeal dough but are flat circles that are completely sealed up, and they have different fillings.


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