Jay Parker says that for the last 68 years that his family has owned Ben’s Best Kosher Deli in Rego Park, Queens, they have had a running argument over how to spell "knaidel" – the Yiddish word for matzo balls, unleavened dough balls cooked in soups and a staple of every Jewish kitchen.
So when Arvind Mahankali, 13, spelt it right to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee on May 30, the Parker family controversy was put to rest. In fact, the Ben’s Best owner was so thankful, he decided to name a new dish after the champ, calling it “Arvind-Knaidel,” and inviting friends, neighbors, politicians, etc., to come taste it at its June 9 launch.
“I thought what better way to thank a 13-year-old for spelling the word that we couldn’t spell for 68 years and therefore decided to call matzo balls,” Parker told Desi Talk. “Now that we know how to spell it we are calling it knaidel. No more matzo. And we are calling it Arvind-Knaidel to indicate it was his spelling.”
Close to 100 people crowded into the 80-seater deli in Rego Park for a party Parker hosted to launch the new dish. It was attended by Rep. Grace Meng who represents District 33 that houses not just Ben’s Best Kosher Deli, but also Arvind’s Bayside Hills home. Meng had a special U.S. flag brought from Washington, D.C., that she presented to Arvind at the event.
"Everybody in Queens is so proud of him (Arvind), and the one reason we are so excited is because his big achievement was a wonderful representation of our diversity," Meng told Desi Talk. "It was really so much fun. We had Indians and South Asians members of the community eating matzo balls."
Several other local leaders and members of the Indian and Jewish communities attended the standing-room-only event and chowed down on free Arvind-Knaidel. In fact, Arvind’s father, Srinivas Mahankali, liked it so much, Parker sent him home with a couple quartz of knaidel. But the Arvind-Knaidel is going to be different from the traditional dish that has just one large portion. The new dish has several mini knaidels in the soup; “Easier to eat,” Parker said.
The event was not only good publicity for the deli but also another chance for the extremely diverse communities that live in this district to meet each other. Other local leaders who attended included Cynthia Zalisky, executive director of the Queens Jewish Community Council; Hindy Poupko, director of Israel and International Affairs at the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York; Dr. Uma Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America in Flushing, Queens; Lal Motwani and Mackey Kahn, from the National Federation of Indian American Associations, a release from Meng’s office said.
Arvind is an eighth-grader at Nathaniel Hawthorne Middle School in Oakland Gardens, Queens, and plans to attend Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, Meng’s alma mater. This was his third attempt at the bee held in Washington, D.C. He placed third in the bee in the two years preceding his victory.