When I was 3 years old, my family moved from Detroit, Michigan and headed west. We ended up in San Diego, California where I was to spend my formative years. Now, while San Diego may be known for many things (perfect weather, glorious beaches, breathtaking landscapes), one thing San Diego never had was a great Jewish delicatessen. For a family coming from a deli town like Detroit, this was to become a major issue.
In response to this “deli-drought,” my family made a quarterly pilgrimage to the west-coast Mecca of the deli universe, Los Angeles. There, nestled in the spectacle of Tinseltown, deli aficionados still can find some of the finest delis west of the Big Apple.
Throughout the mid-1970’s, my entire family would set aside an entire Saturday for our journey to deli heaven. We would wake up early, pack our big yellow station wagon with an empty ice cooler, and drive north. Our destination was Nate n’ Al’s in Beverly Hills, and we would always arrive in time for lunch.
Upon arriving, we would put our name on the waiting list for a table and immediately took our place in line to order from the deli counter. What followed was something I always believed was unique to my deli-obsessed family. We filled our cooler with three months’ worth of smoked fish, cured meats, pickles and pastry, but that was only the beginning. After stuffing ourselves with hot pastrami, corned beef, kishkah, k’nishes and chopped liver, we headed to the next stop on this holy pilgrimage – the bagel shop. There we purchased a gross of bagels. I know it may sound obscene, but we needed our stash to last until our next journey to this holy land for the deli fiend.
Few people eat like this anymore, and this is probably a good thing. Over the course of the past few decades we have learned that the classical foods of our heritage (with the exception of chicken soup) are terrible for our health. Traditional Jewish cuisine is high in salt; high in fat; high in cholesterol; high in carbohydrates; high in everything that contributes to diabetes and heart disease, and yet, there is a history and a meaning behind all of it.
The history of Jewish deli food speaks directly to who we are as a people. This history reflects life in the shtetl; it is shaped by the laws of our faith; and it exemplifies early ways of preserving food before refrigeration. Walking into a Jewish deli today is like walking into an interactive food museum where Jewish history, culture and cuisine come together to educate as well as satiate.
On Friday night, November 21 we will be welcoming Ziggy Gruber (owner of Kenny & Ziggy’s) to the pulpit for our First Annual Deli Shabbos. Ziggy is preparing a very special Shabbat Dinner followed by a sermon about the meal during services. The theme of this year’s Deli Shabbos experience will be chicken.
Join us for dinner and services and learn everything you ever wanted to know about the Jewish aspects of chicken from soup to chopped liver. We promise you will not leave the synagogue hungry. To register and for more information, please visit our website at www.hcrj.org.