October 31, 2015

Foodways

Just got started on Ted Merwin's Pastrami on Rye, and already I've run across this passage on the importance of delicatessens—

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the delicatessen—what the food writer Joan Nathan calls "the Jewish eating experience in America." A delicatessen owner in Boston disclosed that elderly Jews come to her establishment for their last meal. "They're practically on respirators," she whispered, "but they want one last taste of deli before they die." As the essayist Jonathan Rosen writes in The Talmud and the Internet, the great German poet Goethe begged, on his deathbed, for "more light"—Rosen's grandmother, by contrast, pleaded for pastrami. Or, as the late comedian Soupy Sales (ne Milton Supman) jested, if he had his life to live over, he would "live over a delicatessen."

In just a few pages, Merwin has also pointed me back towards the books of Maria Balinska and Laura Silver, which have been neglected for too long on my shelf, and evoked a powerful memory of the tavern scene in Daniel Deronda

In the kosher delicatessen, the free-thinker (atheist) and the frum (observant) Jew could break bread—typically rye with caraway seeds—together, as could the top-hatted capitalist and the leather-capped socialist.