Where do blintzes come from?

Like most really good questions, that one is hard to answer, reader Dennis. Pancakes come from pretty much everywhere. However the stripe of filled and folded pancake that goes by the name blintz is thought to have originated in Central Europe…Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, that general area. Blintzes were probably a traditional food item in that part of the world for hundreds of years before they gained real popularity ’round about the year 1800. That’s when blintzes first began to appear on the European culinary map, as it were.

They were — and still are — known by many names. “Blintzes” are what they’re commonly called in America, which is their Yiddish name. However in Chicago alone they’re called everything from blini (Russian) and palačinki (Czech, Slovak, Serbian, Bosnian) to palatschinken (German), palascinta (Hungarian) and naleśniki (Polish). Each culture has its own variation on the recipe. Blini, for example, are made from buckwheat and are usually leavened with yeast. However the delivery (filled, folded, fried in butter) is remarkably consistent from table to table.

These days good blintzes can be found just about anywhere you find people of Central and Eastern European descent. The last time I had a really good blintz was at Veselka Restaurant in the East Village in New York (they do great pierogis and potato pancakes there, too). Man, what is it about this time of year that makes a guy hungry for potatoes, cheese, apple sauce and red cabbage? I may need to quit all this blogging and go get my pots out…

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5 Responses to Where do blintzes come from?

  1. Ellen says:

    I’ve seen recipes for blintzes that are made with yeast and buckwheat flour. Is that a regional variation?

    • joepastry says:

      I think those are probably Russian blini by a different name. These things all get so confused sometimes…

  2. Laura says:

    There is a very interesting explanation of the history of the Blintz in Gil Marks recent book, Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. According to Gil Marks, blintzes come originally from the Turks, who introduced thin wheat pancakes (also rolled up with a filling) when they conquered the Balkans in the 14th century. He says that Romanians first called these pancakes placinta (from the Roman name for a thin cheesecake). He says that the name changed to the Slavic Blintze when the dish traveled from Romania to the Ukraine in the 16th century.

    Another observation he makes is that the term blintz can refer to the pancake as well as the filled pancake, but some Yiddish speakers refer to the pancakes as bletlach (leaves) and only the filled pancake as a blintz. That is what I was taught. I call the blintz pancakes bletlach and only when filled is it a blintz (to me, anyway).

    Oh, and Gil Marks says that the name crepes come from the Latin word crispus, and they got their name from an earlier thicker Medieval pancake.

    • joepastry says:

      Thanks Laura! Turkey is a safe bet for anything wheat-based since, well, wheat originally came from there. But call me a skeptic when people try to get down to who introduced what pancake to who. Pancakes are the oldest prepared, grain-based food on the planet. Trying to establish an historical owner of the pancake (wheat-based or otherwise) is really impossible, at least to my way of seeing things. As for where the term came from, I think it would really take a linguist to figure that one out. The Roman word “placenta” originally came from the Greek word for “flat” (plakóenta). How it cam to be used in all those other contexts (because indeed you can hear echoes of it in many of the words I mentioned) is I’m sure another extremely complex question.

      But it’s definitely true that people used different words for filled an and unfilled blintzes/blini/palačinki. I came across several while I was researching over the weekend…my how complicated these things can get! Thanks for the comments!

  3. joepastry says:

    I wish I had some concrete ideas there. All I can say is that the more you post, the more the crawlers will find you. I don’t do anything at all from and SEO standpoint except post, post, post. Good luck!

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