Our Ethnic Foods: Culinary Inroads Into California, Anyone for Knoephle?

"Our Ethnic Foods: Culinary Inroads Into California, Anyone for Knoephle?" California District Council Report, Spring 2004.

At a recent corporate-sponsored "Diversity Day" potluck luncheon in San Ramon, California, a Filipino-American associate of mine unpacked a huge pot of soup. Her home-made lumpia had been the hit of our previous luncheon and everyone was anticipating a culinary repeat performance. She hesitatingly explained that she wasn't sure what this soup was called, however, and it wasn't even Filipino, it was her husband's grandmother's recipe. She reassured us it was the ultimate "comfort food"! The soup was another potluck triumph: creamy, with a definite chicken fundament, bits of potato and celery and lots of little dumplings. I thought about my associate's anglicized, vaguely-German last name, and about her long daily commute from Lodi. When asked about her husband's family, she, expressed the nationality confusion many German Russians have experienced: "I don't know. I guess they're German or something."! As a California native from a Volga German family, I realized I was having my first encounter with Knoephle Soup!

Following are excerpts from a Knoephle Soup article in the March 8, 2001 edition of "The Morton County and Mandan News" in a cunning bit of journalistic wit by Aaron Laduke. Know Your Knoephle!

The South has their Barbeque, Chicago and New York their own styles of pizza, the Northeast can boast of seafood, California of sushi (Editor: sushi?), but here in North Dakota, we have a dish that surpasses all of these, in taste and in sustenance - a soup that goes by the name of knoephle.

In the peace garden state, whether it be the bar-goer stumbling from their local haunt, the workman in search of hearty lunchtime nourishment, or the family sitting down together to eat at home or elsewhere, one word comes to all of their lips - knoephle. For me, knoephle soup is as much a part of North Dakota as the Missouri, Lake Sakakawea, the Badlands and my car door frozen solidly shut on a brilliant winter morning.

My mother, generous soul that she is, sent me on my senior ski trip with a massive crock of knoephle. How my friends' spirits were raised by the kettle of knoephle riding safely along with us on the long trip through Montana!

Just this fall at a football playoff game in Strasburg, my heart skipped a beat when I saw the charmed words in the window of the concession stand - knoephle soup, 75 cents.

Knoephle soup has obviously given me so many meals and memories I'm going to tell you a bit about the history of our state soup (May I be so bold?), and I am also going to take on a much more daunting task. I shall try to determine who serves the best bowl of knoephle soup in Mandan.

It's almost impossible to name another food as cherished as Mr. Laduke's beloved knoephle. He learns all about its heritage from his German-Russian grandmother and from the GRHS office in nearby Bismarck, and then his knoephle-odyssey takes him through all of Mandan's best knoephle-houses to Ohm's Cafe, The Speedway, Kroll's Corner, Stadt Haus, Fried's Family Restaurant and Dakota Farms (Editor: all this in a town of just 17,000 residents?). After carefully evaluating all the possible variations in the soup's appearance, its exquisite aroma, its comforting flavor and the attributes of its dumplings, he sidesteps naming Mandan's best knoephle soup, explaining diplomatically that he, afterall, "never met a bowl of knoephle" he "didn't like."!

If you have a favorite knoephle soup anecdote - or short narrative about any German-Russian ethnic foods - please share it with the CDC Report!

Our appreciation is extended to the editor of the California District Council Report for permission to use this article.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller