Out of all the food trends that have emerged from New York City, one of the most well known and beloved is that of the Jewish delicatessen.
The deli — best described as a combination of a grocery store and a casual restaurant, arrived in New York with Jewish immigrants in the late 19th century. Deli scholar Ted Mirwin, author of “Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli,” said the first true Jewish deli to open was Katz’s in the Lower East Side in 1888. The Jewish deli reached its peak popularity during the 1920s and 30s when more than 1,500 operated throughout the city, Mirwin added.
Since then, their numbers have rapidly decreased. Only a few of the originals, such as Katz’s, 2nd Avenue Deli and Pastrami Queen, remain. However, recent additions such as Mile End and Sadelle’s are giving the classic Jewish deli new life. Whether you decide to go old school or new school, here are a few dishes you shouldn’t miss.
Matzo Ball Soup
This chicken broth based soup is the ultimate comfort food. It’s perfect on a chilly day or when you’re feeling a bit under the weather. The soup gets its name from the large dumplings, or matzo balls, served in it. Matzo is cracker-like bread traditionally eaten during the Passover holidays, but the soup is a year-round treat. Try it at Katz’s where they claim, “If the soup weren’t surrounding it, this matzo ball would float away!”
Along with corned beef, pastrami forms the foundation of traditional Jewish deli fare. To make it, beef brisket is brined, seasoned with herbs and spices, smoked then steamed to make it extra tender. Try Pastrami Queen’s “World Famous Hot Pastrami,” an over-stuffed pastrami sandwich piled high on rye bread, topped with coleslaw and served with a pickle.
Like its cousin, pastrami, corned beef is made from beef brisket that is cured in a seasoned brine. However, instead of being smoked and steamed, corned beef is gently simmered on a stovetop for hours. Try it in a hash for breakfast or in a Reuben sandwich with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing on rye bread for lunch. Since it has both meat and dairy, a Reuben isn’t technically Kosher, but even the traditionalists at Katz’s are willing to bend the rules for this sandwich.
While traditionally eaten during Hanukkah, these pancakes made from shredded potatoes are usually a permanent fixture of a Jewish deli’s menu. Perfect for breakfast or a mid-day nosh, they are crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Latkes can be sweet or savory, depending on which of the two traditional toppings you choose — sour cream or applesauce. For an interesting take on the dish, try Mile End Deli’s version, which comes served with tabiko sour cream and smoked salmon.
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