In the post below about ‘Ashkenazi mina‘ I referred to the adaptability of Jewish cooking (which really means Jewish cooks), but in that particular case it would be more appropriate to describe the chopped liver mina as an example of culinary crossover. Seven years living in the Med has taken a toll on my English vocabulary.
A funny thing about that post. All the while writing it I couldn’t stop thinking about really well made chopped liver, which put me onto Jewish deli food in general, and my own personal favorites growing up: garlic pickles (at age 10 I could eat a whole jarful); German cole slaw; roast turkey with cole slaw & Russian dressing on rye; rare roast beef with lettuce & mayo (I know, I know) on rye. Always the rye bread, and if you don’t understand the importance of a good rye bread, watch the Seinfeld episode about the Schnitzer’s rye. These are not only Jewish foods but Jewish American foods – New York Jewish American foods – that abounded when I was growing up. In the context of regional culinary distinctions, that’s pretty specific.
Roast beef here is a rarity (excuse the pun which, by the way, will be utterly lost in translation) and the American concept of a sandwich non-existent. The Spanish idea of a sandwich is a single layer of something – some dried sausage slices, a couple of paper-thin slices of ham, two slices of cheese, a slice of tortilla – absolutely lost inside a long, thin, bland baguette rubbed with tomato & olive oil. Dreary (or worse, soggy) and a far cry from a big, luscious, overstuffed pastrami sandwich with mustard. Not that I’ve eaten a pastrami sandwich in eons, mind you. But it was always a comfort to know it was there.
So there I was lamenting the dearth of deli food, let alone satisfying sandwiches, where I live and thinking about how many delis already had vanished when I left New York and how many more have probably gone the same way since, and that somebody should be preserving this major cultural culinary legacy. And wouldn’t you know it, someone’s up to just that. Here’s an article from yesterday’s NYTimes, by Joan Nathan. If you ever loved Jewish deli food, take a look here.