Friday, February 15, 2008

Pastrami Memories

This post is inspired by Frank Bruni's recent review of the Second-Avenue Deli, which is a great read, even if you are far from New York. As only a New York Times Food critic could do, he lunched with former Mayor Ed Koch, writer and movie director Nora Ephron, and Laura Shapiro, an author of several culinary history books, and they feasted on pastrami, matzo ball soup, and other Jewish delicacies. My favorite line from the review is

Laura mentioned something about a deli near Boston, where she grew up. Ed flashed back to corned beef and knishes from the different boroughs and decades in his life. And I realized that we weren’t so much eating in a specific restaurant as passing through a communal storehouse of memories, on a bridge of babkas from the past to the future. NYT, Dining Review, 02.13.08

It sums up so nicely how food and memory can be entwined, even if it is "borrowed" heritage, as Jewish deli is for me. By "borrowed" I mean, any New Yorker can claim "deli" as their own, just as any Southerner might claim "BBQ" or "pecan pie." It is theirs and their right to boast on it or tear it down, if only by virtue of past experiences in eating it and loving it. When you can make your own BBQ or bake your own pie, you might have special bragging rights. But some foods, like pastrami or rugelach, are rightfully better made by the old-time pros in the delis and bakeries of New York and other old cities. You tend to find them only in cities that still have the ethnic base to support them. These prepared foods have an honored place at the family table, as they are often eaten with extended family or over holidays.

Think about the food that is in your memory, the foods that signify home or heritage. Have you shared them with your family and your kids? You don't need a special excuse or holiday. Introduce them to pastrami on rye, or whatever other treat you remember. Do so and you'll be enjoying it together for years to come.

Best Rugelach: Margaret Palca Bakes
Favorite Deli: The one in Albertson, Long Island, now closed, that we used to go to with Grandpa Dave. More about memory than food, I'm sure. Ben's was also pretty good.

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