Pastrami on Rye
An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli
by Ted Merwin
Pub Date 06 Oct 2015
Winner of the 2015 National Jewish Book Award in Education and Jewish Identity from the Jewish Book Council
For much of the twentieth century, the New York Jewish deli was an iconic institution in both Jewish and American life. As a social space it rivaled—and in some ways surpassed—the synagogue as the primary gathering place for the Jewish community. In popular culture it has been the setting for classics like When Harry Met Sally. And today, after a long period languishing in the trenches of the hopelessly old-fashioned, it is experiencing a nostalgic resurgence.
Pastrami on Rye is the first full-length history of the New York Jewish deli. The deli, argues Ted Merwin, reached its full flowering not in the immigrant period, as some might assume, but in the interwar era, when the children of Jewish immigrants celebrated the first flush of their success in America by downing sandwiches and cheesecake in theater district delis. But it was the kosher deli that followed Jews as they settled in the outer boroughs of the city, and that became the most tangible symbol of their continuing desire to maintain a connection to their heritage. Ultimately, upwardly mobile American Jews discarded the deli as they transitioned from outsider to insider status in the middle of the century. Now contemporary Jews are returning the deli to cult status as they seek to reclaim their cultural identities.
Richly researched and compellingly told, Pastrami on Rye gives us the surprising story of a quintessential New York institution.
“Merwin's long awaited history of the deli delivers like the best deli fress: this is a book that nails the mustard-slicked soulful flavor of this cultural gem, with a heft of academic substance that leaves the mind thoroughly satisfied (and the body starved for chopped liver).”--David Sax, author of The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue
"Brings together a vast range of scholarship and anecdote to produce the first comprehensive history of the Jewish delicatessen. Both culinary and cultural history, this book will be of interest to scholars and common readers alike, the former for its incisive interpretations of modern Jewish foodways and the latter for its ability to recreate a time and place that was 'home' for so many 20th century Jews in America. Its evocation of deli menus alone will get your mouth watering."--David Kraemer, author of Jewish Eating and Jewish Identity Through the Ages