Pastrami or Lox?
Tough decision, I know. Luckily, in the East Village/Lower East Side, you don’t have to travel far to stock up on both of these Jewish treats. If you’ve ever stood on line for a pastrami on rye at Katz’s or grabbed a bagel with lox and a schmear at Russ & Daughters, you know what I’m talking about. You may have wondered, though, why you can’t pick up these savory specialties in one stop.
The answer is simple- dictated by Kosher law, meat and dairy products cannot be eaten together or sold together. Therefore, an appetizing store (such as Russ & Daughters, opened in 1914) sells dairy products and fish, and a delicatessen (such as Katz’s, opened in 1888) sells cured and pickled meats.
The Jewish deli has long been a staple on the Lower East Side. Institutions like the Second Avenue Deli or Ratner’s were community gathering places where one could go for food that was reminiscent of grandma’s and where the employees and fellow patrons felt like family. Both of these delis were located on lower 2nd Avenue in the heart of the Yiddish Rialto (don’t miss our upcoming lecture on this Jewish theater history!). As discussed in a 2007 New York Times article, traditional Jewish delis have been disappearing at an alarming rate. Perhaps due to the loss of Jewish immigrants in the neighborhood, demand for customary deli staples like kishka and tongue has declined. As Katz’s asserts, a real delicatessen is even more rare because it uses a “tradition of meat preparation and preservation predating refrigeration.” Luckily, due to the lines winding around the block (and maybe “that” scene from When Harry Met Sally), it doesn’t look like Katz’s is going anywhere!
As Russ & Daughters explains on their website, “appetizing” in this context is a noun that refers to a “Jewish food tradition that is most typical among American Jews, and it is particularly local to New York and New Yorkers.” Further, “appetizing” also means “stuff one eats with bagels.” This “stuff” generally includes whitefish, herring, kippers, and other smoked fish. These stores became increasingly popular on the Lower East Side in the early 20th century due to a large influx of Eastern European Jews. In the 1960’s there were 30 appetizing stores on the LES alone!
Now, Russ & Daughters is one of the last of its kind and is committed to preserving this unique food culture. GVSHP will be celebrating this with our upcoming fundraiser, Much Ado About Noshing, where Calvin Trillin and Russ & Daughters will discuss food, history, and community. There will be smoked salmon and other appetizing goodies, so get your tickets today!