By: Joan Ginsberg
While a simple Google search will turn up tons of articles, blogs, and even books about the decline of the Jewish deli in America, it’s harder to find pictures of menus and other concrete examples of what Jewish deli food used to be – and what made it different from modern delis.
So Sy and I were delighted when a recent pilgrimage to Miami to visit The Jewish Museum of Florida and its exhibit on Florida Jews and food yielded a display case full of Jewish deli menus from the 40’s and 50’s. Favorites like corned beef, pastrami, latkes, and blintzes were there, but we were especially interested in those items you just don’t see anymore.
Take a look at some of the offering on these menus. Do you know any modern delis serving some of these items?
PTCHA * KISHKA * EGGPLANT * HERRING
The Famous Restaurant menu had ALL of these, all well as sliced brains. For those of you unfamiliar, stuffed derma is kishka, and ptcha/pitcha is calf’s foot jelly. Honest.
Eggplant, of course, is not an unfamiliar food. It was a staple of all of the deli menus we saw, though, and we think it would be unusual to find it on a modern Jewish deli menu, unless it was an Italian/Jewish mash-up.
A few of the more traditional J
ewish delis, like Kenny and Ziggy’s in Houston, still have herring of one form or another on their menus now, but you wouldn’t find a Jewish deli without it in the mid-20th century.
Everyone in the USA serves sour cream with their baked potatoes, and Jewish delis who still sell latkes (potato pancakes) serve it with sour cream. But we were tickled to see the ways sour cream was served at Wolfie’s. a famous Miami Beach deli. A bowl of sour cream, anyone?
MORE HERRING, SOUR CREAM, PLUS GEFILTE FISH
A variety of herring was served everywhere, like pickled, matjes (soused) and schmaltz. These terms refer not only to the brine used to preserve the fish, but to the fish itself. Schmaltz herring, for example, is fatty fish caught just before spawning, while matjes herring are usually young and immature fish. And everyone knows what gefilte fish is, right?
BEFORE PRINTED MENUS
Of course, the printing of menus didn’t really take off until after WWII, when restaurants had widely available refrigeration and other amenities that allowed them to broaden their culinary offerings. Prior to that, menus were small and featured what was fresh and local.
Bernstein’s Jewish Home Cooking, considered the first Jewish restaurant in Miami, 1927-1938.