November 25, 2012
Save the Deli by David Sax
Sax has a mission. Save the Deli, or so the title of his book says. In reality, this book is an exploration of the delis that are left in the world. It is divided into three parts: New York, the rest of the USA, and the World. In each section he explores the delis available, gives his opinions on them, and lists out the types of food they have and whether or not they are authentic. He also talks about the types of people that run a deli, to the lifers to those who are just wanting to make a quick buck and franchise. Throughout the whole book, there is Jewish history, customs, and culture explored as well.
Sax doesn't pull any punches. If he thinks a deli is crap when he visits it, he says so. But he is also lavish in his praise for those he thinks gets it right too. In fact, he even acknowledges that he's going to make people mad when he says that New York is not the deli capital of the world, that there are better in Los Angeles and Montreal. And seeing as how New York prides itself on its delis, that's really saying something. Of course, it is just his opinion, although he seems to be well versed in deli lore. I mean the man eats tongue everywhere he goes which is just plain odd (and not something I ever think of when I think of the deli).
The whole point of this book is to point out that delis are dying around the world. People are looking for other things and cured meats are falling by the wayside. As are gefilte fish, matzo balls, and other things. And how can this be? Sax explains it as different tastes for today's Jewish youths, health reasons (most of this food can be artery clogging) and deli not being done right so that it's tasteless. The way he describes pastrami in this book makes me think that I've probably never had a good authentic one. And if I like the type I can get out of the case at Kroger, what on earth would I think of the actual stuff? I probably would have to set a tent up in front of the front door of that deli and eat there every day. Sax does do a wonderful job of describing the food. Even the tongue that sounds unappealing to me he manages to make sound delicious and decadent. Enough that if I were offered a free sample I would probably take it. And I do like that he talked about the people of the deli, the so called Deli Men who made it their whole life and did it right, carving the meat against the grain. And even the history and culture of Jewish people was appreciated as aside from what everyone knows about the Holocaust, I haven't really learned much about the culture. And to make the book even better, there's a listing of what the different foods are and the different deli locations in the back.
I different kind of food book. It was part travel, part history, part commentary, and all about one man's love for the deli. His obsession made for a great book and he researched it well. I know that based on this book, a trip to Zingerman's is probably in my future.
Save the Deli