Old-School Revival: Pastrami and Pickles for Today!

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Chances are you’ve heard of the Jewish deli no matter where you live, but did you know that they’re making a comeback in a big way?

When you imagine the delicious offerings of a deli, plenty of tasty options come to mind, such as fresh-baked rye bread heaped with pastrami, a mouth-watering bite of sauerkraut or a crisp, zesty pickle. They’re all iconic to the institution known as a Jewish deli. But when you think of such a place, where do you often imagine they’re located? It’s likely somewhere as diverse and thriving as New York City.

The good news is that Jewish delis are experiencing a boost in popularity but in a new and different way. They’re showing up in locales you might not expect, such as Des Moines, Indianapolis, Denver, Nashville, even Tokyo, spots that don’t seem to scream rye bread, Reuben or chopped liver sandwiches. That’s why a new generation of foodies is getting excited.

What’s causing the sudden renewal of interest in Jewish delis? Some experts say it’s a desire to get back to the basics, a way of acknowledging nostalgia about the past, when things were simple and delicious. Today’s environment sometimes feels chaotic, and during societal upheaval it’s a natural impulse to seek a haven; the deli is a place where everyone can come together and experience something positive.

It’s not all about simply reviving cuisine and putting it back on the map. Everywhere one looks, in major cities and smaller communities, old classics are coming back bigger and better. With the spotlight on Jewish cuisine, foodies are enjoying all the original staples while also getting a sense of the stories behind such dishes, and new delis are opening to offer this trend across the country.

Classics and Artisan Dishes
Sure, it’s nice to have the comforting classics, such as a sandwich on rye, a piping-hot bowl of matzo ball soup or the perfectly crafted bialys. But as cultures and culinary tastes collide, there’s an opportunity for classic cuisine to be infused with new flavors and ideas.

Take, for example, the classic, bone-warming matzo ball soup. While plentiful at any number of Jewish delis, this iconic soup is finding a new home in fusion cuisine. Vietnamese pho with matzo balls is one twist on the classic, while Korean kimchi has been known to pair very well with pastrami or corned beef. When combining the classics with a new twist, the outcome is outstanding, a major reason culinary enthusiasts are looking to the classics.

An important distinction to make in the resurgence of Jewish delis is the approach of the entrepreneurs. Chefs and owners aren’t just opening establishments and doing a new take on classic dishes; they’re going back to the original menus and focusing on the best items found at a deli. Instead of creating a vast menu to appeal to a wide range of tastes, visitors to delis will find the essentials, such as house-smoked meats, fresh fish and a plethora of high-quality ingredients. Deli owners say that a concise, focused menu surpasses a vast, unfocused one, and they seem to be right, because these classic and iconic options are what keep foodies coming back for more.

Significance of the Jewish Deli
While many hungry people pop into a deli for a scrumptious lunch or to pick up artisan ingredients, Jewish delis have been an essential part of the lifestyle and culture for Jewish communities. In popular enclaves of New York City, Jewish immigrants opened up shops that served goods and foods for others of Jewish faith in the community, many of whom had left their ancestral homes in Europe and craved the homemade dishes so well loved in their families. As the populations migrated west and south, so did the concept and foods surrounding the Jewish deli.

Aside from the deli menu, the atmosphere of the establishment itself is what’s creating a buzz. People crave a chance to sit down, soak up the ambiance and enjoy a good meal without feeling rushed, and that’s what deli owners are keeping in mind as they open new stores. Using community efforts and local artisans, Jewish delis are once again bringing a personal touch to the dining experience, exactly what consumers crave in today’s busy environment. Chefs who use wholesome, quality recipes and exceptional ingredients paired with an innovative fusion of flavors are creating the renewed love for this iconic establishment to keep the deli alive for future generations. ■

Sources: washingtonpost.com, foodandwine.com and economist.com.