Boova Shenkel - Gastro Obscura

Prepared Foods

Boova Shenkel

These rare traditional dumplings are as big as a plate.

Imagine a Chinese potsticker dumpling with a white dough wrapper, browned in a frying pan. It’s huge. There’s only one per serving, because each is as big as a plate. And when it’s put in front of you, it’ll have caramelized onions on top like pierogies do.

Cut it open and you´ll find the same sort of peppery potato filling you’ll see in knishes. These are boova shenkel, the traditional filled dumplings of the Pennsylvania Dutch.

Once a staple of local restaurants, church suppers, and firehouse fundraisers, the only place still serving them is Boova Haus, a stand at the Quakertown Farmers Market in Bucks County. This tiny eatery and its two owners, Don Mensch and Jason Van Dyke, are all that stand between the boova shenkel and its commercial extinction. Obviously, it specializes in the dish, and is well worth a visit.

The name boova shenkel comes from a Pennsylvania Dutch phrase said to mean “boy’s legs,” “boy’s pockets,” or even “boy’s foot.” Funnily enough, the name is reminiscent of calzone, a similar (although baked) Italian dish with a name meaning “pant legs.” Both are part of the filled dumpling family that includes maultaschen, knishes, pierogi, and vareniki—all popular with Pennsylvania’s local immigrant food cultures.

Boova Haus shares the market with more than a hundred other vendors offering everything from cured meats to slot cars. At the building entrance, there’s a menu by the door, and signs pointing the way. Inside Boova Haus, you´ll find a counter, a few tables, and a cooler showing off the uncooked boova shenkel.

Mensch began making boova shenkel for his late mother when she was in assisted living, assembling them at home and bringing them over for the staff to cook. They were a big hit. Not just with mom, but with everybody else. It wasn’t long before a restaurant was in the works, and Boova Haus opened its doors in 2015.

The Haus doesn’t just serve boova shenkel. There’s a menu with typical soups and sandwiches. Sometimes, though, Boova Haus offers the Pennsylvania Dutch classic “bot boi;” a chicken and noodle soup that can often be misspelled as “pot pie,” even though the two are only marginally related.

But boova are the stars of the show. The browning of the wrapper dough gives it depth, the peppery potato filling is substantial, and the caramelized onions on top give it the sort of natural sweetness you can’t get from sugar. It’s a simple dumpling and a whole meal, all in one.

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