As some of you already know, I now have a fortnightly column in Jewish News. Here is the latest…
You always remember your first time: biting through the rye bread into the juicy heap of greasy, tender, peppery pastrami…and here comes that mustard kick – wonderful. There are few joys in life as glorious as the hot pastrami sandwich of the American Jewish deli. It’s little wonder that Meg Ryan so noisily enjoyed hers in When Harry Met Sally, prompting a fellow diner to quip “I’ll have what she’s having.”
I know just what she means. Some of the happiest moments of my life have come while noshing away in such Stateside establishments. From the famous Carnegie and Katz in New York, to the under-rated Sam LaGrassas in Boston and the starry Canters of Los Angeles I have pumped my veins full of cholesterol and lived to tell the story. Along with the sandwiches and the soup, the hefty side order of Jewish wisdom and humour that the staff of these establishments routinely serve up are music to the ears of this philosemite. “My food will kill you,” was the memorable – and strangely tempting – boast of one of Manhattan’s most famous deli owners.
The banter is part of the menu. Which is I was why bitterly disappointed when – contrary to reputation – not a single member of staff at Stage Deli in New York was rude to me, however long I deliberately lingered and stuttered over my order when I visited last year. I’ve replayed the visit in my head many times and I still don’t know what I did wrong to not get ticked off. What am I? Chopped liver?
My pastrami passion extends to my bookshelf. One of my favourite books is How To Feed Friends And Influence People, which is the story of the Carnegie Deli, and more recently I have been devouring the excellent Save The Deli by David Sax. I even own a copy of the 2nd Avenue Deli Cookbook, though the less said about my efforts to reproduce its dishes in my Berkshire kitchen the better. As a friend who sampled my efforts put it: “This is a day that will live in infamy”.
As you might have guessed, I am obsessed with these delis and I’m far from alone. Visitors to the States flock to such establishments, queueing with the locals for a sandwich, some soup or a knish. But why do we even need to fly thousands of miles for the pleasure? It puzzles me why nobody in the UK has cashed in on this popularity and opened such a place here. It seems a glaring omission from our culinary scene.
True, there are outlets selling pretty decent salt beef sarnies, including Blooms on Golders Green Road, Gaby’s on Charing Cross Road and Birley’s in Canary Wharf, but I’ve never found anywhere in Britain that does anything remotely like the gargantuan, juicy joy that is the Carnegie hot pastrami sandwich. We have every other ethnic food stuff represented on our high streets: Indian, Thai, Chinese, Sushi, Ethiopian, burgers, Italian, Greek, Lebanese – isn’t there room for one New York-style Jewish deli in the whole of London?
It would surely be a popular venture for both locals and American ex-pats. If nobody opens one soon I’ll do it myself. I can see the newspaper headlines as my clear-eyed business vision is vindicated by mile-long queues outside the UK’s first proper New York-style deli: “Brits go barmy for Chas’s Pastrami” (The Mirror); “Cheryl Cole balloons after just one sandwich”(Daily Mail); “Thousands suspected dead in Zionist catering massacre” (The Guardian).
Dear readers, you’ll all be very welcome to look in for a freebie. Jackie Mason said: ‘A sandwich to a Jew is just as important as a country to a gentile.’ Only you can tell me if he’s right but if he is – count me in.
If you are not in the newspaper’s catchment area you can read it in full online here.