Bagels, pastrami, cheesecake – Jewish food has a long tradition in New York, and since the movie „Harry and Sally,“ tourists also know Katz’s, New York’s oldest Jewish deli, which is 120 years old this year. Celebrities have always been a guest at Jewish delicacies – Katz’s, for example Milla Jovovich, Danny de Vito, Barbara Streisand, Al Gore and Bill Clinton.
But there is still something to celebrate in New York: the reopening of Second Avenue Deli, which had to be closed in the 90s and reopened on 34th Street. He is the favorite restaurant of comedian Jerry Seinfeld – and because he does, he mentioned Deli several times in the eponymous comedy series.
Hasia Diner is Paul S. and Sylvia Steinberg is a professor of American Jewish history at New York University, has written a book on eating Jewish immigrants, and is a passionate delirious herself.
Mrs. Diner, how is Jewish food so present in New York City?
This is mainly due to the fact that a high percentage of New York Jews are. In the 1930s and 1940s, they accounted for about 25 percent of the population. There was no other city that approached this number at all. Considering how big New York City was then, we’re talking about millions of Jews here. During the waves of immigration there were many Jewish delicacies. Some of them have specialized in certain regions in Europe, others have united the different cooking habits. It came to a merger, which we call American-Jewish cuisine today.
Did all the Jews eat in the delicatessen shops?
They were mostly Jews, yes. Eventually, however, they began to market their food as a unique New York experience. At the same time, New Yorkers became more adventurous with food and explored ethical neighborhoods. Take as an example the bagel, which is a relatively new phenomenon. In the 1940s and 1950s, he barely existed outside of New York. Some Jews ate it occasionally, but it was not a typical dish. But marketing was also promoted, and the migration of Jews to Jewish neighborhoods in other cities spread the bagel. In the 1950s and 1960s, then non-Jews discovered the pastry. Honestly, I’m not sure how many Americans who go to Dunkin and eat a bagel know that he was originally a street food in Poland ….
You speak of New York Jewish cuisine in your book. How is the food in this city so special?
For one, there is no „Jewish food“. It’s not like the Italians or the Chinese. Wherever Jews lived, they integrated the foods available there and the way they were prepared into their diet, and adapted them to the Jewish dietary law, the kashrut. As a result, Moroccan Jewish food was very similar to Moroccan cuisine, and in Slovenia it was similar to Moroccan cuisine. But without the use of pork, crustaceans or other foods that are not allowed by Kashrut, they are not kosher. Due to the migration of the Jews, the eating habits mixed even more. Take, for example, the pastrami, a very sliced beef, a very popular delicacy. Romanian Jews once brought them to the United States. Jews from Ukraine or Lithuania would never have eaten pastrami if they had not immigrated to the US and learned about it. This dish is therefore only traditional for their eating habits in the US. The same applies to the German Jews who brought corned beef, frankfurter and hotdogs to America. No Jew from Lithuania knew that before. They ate it for the first time in the US.