Food From a Vanished Jewish Europe: Kishka

We are on the road currently so usual posts are suspended for a time, but room for a food note.

(We may post travel notes, not keyed to beer as such in other words. I can’t guarantee its absence, though).

Pictured is the old Jewish dish kishka, aka stuffed derma. Traditionally, it is a beef casing with a fat-flavoured, starchy stuffing. Artificial casings are sometimes used today, as in sausage manufacture generally.

This was sampled at Zelden’s deli in Toronto, open only some 3-4 years and a grateful addition to a declining genre in town, the Jewish delicatessen.



Kishka is generally made with ground matzoh meal, although another base can be used, flour or a combination. Ground vegetables are often added, and sometimes a little meat.

Similar dishes abound in eastern Europe including the Polish pork-and-buckwheat kiszka, which features typically a blood addition.

Zelden’s version is just as I remember in Montreal, mild-tasting but savoury, simply spiced, an adjunct to a meal, not the main event – although the serving can stand as entrée certainly (in the American sense).

It is a kind of white pudding in North British terms. The Jewish sausage repertory is not large but the kishka is surely its chieftain, to echo Burns.

A French version is called “gogue”; or so late food author Jane Grigson once told me, via one of her matchless works.

Kishka was par excellence provender of the Jewish proletariat in East Europe, and is rarely found today even in delis in my experience.

I like at Zelden’s the pastrami or roast brisket, in a sandwich or plate. The kishka goes well to start, preferably shared, and no chips mind!

Jodi Luber at The Jewish Kitchen has a good recipe for kishka. Check out Jamie Geller’s version which suggests brisket scraps for an optional addition.

In Montreal in olden times (my olden times: 1950s-70s) I recall kishka in different forms although the plain style is best I think if made properly. Some had a reddish core, probably from carrots, or paprika.

A restaurant in a section of the needle trade formerly nestled just east of downtown was called Balkan’s. Its version was extremely good. The filling included ground meat of some kind.

Balkan’s was not a deli but replicated the dishes of the Jewish bourgeois kitchen: roast veal, boiled beef, chicken-in-the-pot, etc.

Its kishka was served as a main course, two alongside if memory serves, with mashed potatoes (more starch!). The business crowd at lunch ate it up, as they say.

In later years I recall a restaurant called Balkan & Lennox in the same area, probably with a connection to the original. I am not clear if it still operates, and will check when I visit Montreal in summer.







2 thoughts on “Food From a Vanished Jewish Europe: Kishka”

  1. The Polish version was immortalized by the Polka song “Who Stole the Kishka.” The original version by Frank Yankovic was pretty popular in the 50s, and it got new life on The Dr. Demento radio show and then with a performance by Weird Al Yankovic (no relation to Frank).

    Unlike most of Weird Al’s music, he plays it straight — he actually unironically enjoys Polka music.

    • Ha great title for a song. Will find on YouTube. Interesting that two Yancovics on accordion, presumably same ethnicity, not related. Was a big fan of Weird Al although once he took the glasses off was never quite the same for me.

      Of course blood and pork sound distant from foods of Jewish tradition, but if liver was used in some Jewish versions, which it must have been, I suspect in many cases the taste was similar.


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