Best 100-Year-Old Microorganism
Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. Bulgaricus
Yonah Schimmel Knishes Bakery, 137 E. Houston St. (betw. Forsyth & Eldridge Sts.), 212-477-2858
“Several years ago, we were privileged to overhear a conversation at Yonah Schimmel that gave us yet another reason to love the place. A very elderly customer was telling an only-somewhat-younger gentleman that he remembered seeing him at the knishery when the latter was a boy in short pants.
“And,” he went on, pointing a gnarled finger at the second table from the back, “when I was little boy, Leon Trotsky used to come in and sit right there!”
A quick calculation led to the year 1917, when Trotsky was in exile in New York, editing Novy Mir with Bukharin and about to return to Russia to join the Bolsheviks and take part in the October Revolution. The old fellow looked to be in pretty good shape; we’d bet he ordered the yogurt.
The knishery’s yogurt is still made from the same culture that was imported from Romania in the late 19th century. Rabbi Yonah Schimmel started his knish business selling from a pushcart, and the bakery restaurant has been operating at its current location since 1910. We looked down at our own serving, and contemplated the idea that we were ingesting the same microbes that fueled the great revolutionary. It gave us a warm feeling.
L. bulgaricus’ healthful properties were postulated more than 100 years ago by Nobel laureate Eli Metchnikoff, who discovered the strain while trying to find out why so many Bulgarians were so long-lived. Schimmel’s manager Alex Volfman may not be all that familiar with Metchnikoff’s work, but he does know his yogurt.
“It’s very good for the stomach,” he says. “People with stomach trouble, they get out of Beth Israel and come straight down here. You drink a little yogurt, you’ll feel better. It’s better than medicine.”
Doses from Schimmel’s dairy of youth run $1.75 for an at-table glass, $2.25 for a 10-ounce takeout container, $5 a quart.
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