Delicatessen Nosh-talgia

(Pictured: The Hungry Cabbie, Famous Fat Dave, attempts to sneak-up-from-behind a pastrami sandwich at Harold's Famous NY Deli in Edison, New Jersey)


The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles this week published a cover-story about Toronto-raised author, David Sax, having singled-out L.A. as America's premiere deli city, and Langer's Deli as serving the best pastrami sandwich in the world. But Sax's book, Save the Deli, is neither the first nor definitive exploration of the Jewish delicatessen. Pre-dating it was, among others, San Francisco foodie L. John Harris', "The Deli Book" - excerpted below from his article "Noshtalgia for Pastrami" published in SF's "The Monthly":

I’m a pastrami man. When I go to a Jewish deli, that 100-year-old emporium of Eastern European comfort food, I order a pastrami on rye. Not only do I eat this classic and very fatty sandwich (without guilt), I study it.  This qualifies me as a “maven,” the Yiddish word for expert, or in my case, “obsessive-compulsive deli guy.”  I’m not the only deli maven around, to be sure. Just about every Jew ever born in an American city of any size considers himself or herself a deli maven with childhood memories of particular foods and favorite delis that were part of the fabric of their early lives...

While a Jewish deli must serve the requisite pastrami and corned beef sandwiches and all the other deli classics, it’s still not sufficient to bring in the crowds that delis need to succeed.  So what’s the other essential ingredient? According to Professor Ted Merwin, professor of Jewish Studies at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania (who has just completed a book on New York’s Jewish delicatessens) it’s the emotional draw of nostalgia and the historical function of the deli as a central meeting place: “A place for Jews to rest and refuel after shopping, meet potential mates, relax in a Jewish milieu, reconnect to childhood memories,” says Merwin.

Harris' Deli Book inspired a collaboration with S.F. documentary filmmaker Bill Chayes to produce Divine Food: 100 Years in the Deli Trade
When standing at the Deli counter, do you wonder what makes a good pastrami sandwich kosher? Our film offers a tell-all, behind the scenes look at the Biblically based kosher meat manufacturing process. The film focuses on the immigrant Oscherwitz family, manufacturers of Kosher deli products since the 1880's.

Through interviews, archival photos and film, the Oscherwitz story is told, along with a step-by-step examination of the koshering process. On location at the company plant with a side trip to a classic deli, the film captures the mouth-watering flavors and heart warming memories of the Jewish delicatessen. Divine Food is available on DVD.
The Jewish Channel produced their own news feature on N.Y.C. delis in 2007:


I do credit Save the Deli's publicist with raising awareness about the future of the Jewish Deli.  Special note must be reserved for the neighborhood Jewish deli's that serve as cultural (especially kosher) centers, and preserve our nosh-talgia!

No comments: