The Jewish Deli: An Illustrated Guide to the Chosen Food

Image of The Jewish Deli: An Illustrated Guide to the Chosen Food
Release Date: 
June 27, 2023
Chronicle Books
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The Jewish Deli: An Illustrated Guide to the Chosen Food is an illustrated guide aimed at presenting some of the most exquisite dishes from a Jewish delicatessen. The author and illustrator, Ben Nadler, has masterfully chosen to highlight dishes based on personal, sentimental, and nostalgic reasons. This title does not claim to provide detailed recipes, nor does it aim to be exhaustive in the depicted dishes. The main interest and originality of this book lie in the beauty of its illustrations, which, following the characteristics of comics, take us on a journey through Ashkenazi Jewish culinary culture via the food offered in delis across its 248 pages.

While the book begins with a reminder of the Exodus history, it quickly evolves toward the opening of the first deli in Europe and its subsequent exportation to the United States, mainly in New York, by Ashkenazi Jews. The colors are warm, and the round and harmonious strokes give the characters a warm, even childlike appearance.

A section is then dedicated to kosher food through clear and beautiful drawings, so that the readers can discover and understand the theme: what makes a food kosher and why it is kosher. One can see a multitude of small illustrations (corned beef, pastrami, bagel, etc.), each more enticing than the other, as culinary emblems of delis, alongside herring, mackerel, and other foods. It reveals certain scenes of Jewish holiday meals, such as Yom Kippur, which emphasize the importance of food in Jewish culture and how celebrations revolve around delis.

The first deli presented in the book is Canter's (Los Angeles, CA). Then, the guide presents deli foods by type. The illustrations are precise, the colors vibrant and enticing, and the depth is rendered through different stroke thicknesses and shades of colors, making the foods appear as realistic as possible. The preparations presented, such as corned beef or pastrami, are described in great detail at each step of their creation. The differences are easily understood. It is informative and perfectly accessible to young readers, as well as adults eager to learn more about the workings of delis and the foods they offer. Sausages and tongue bring the illustrations and explanations of this section to a close.

Other institutions such as Katz and Russ and Daughters are, of course, featured, and the history of fish preparations (smoked salmon, etc.) is plentifully illustrated. Challah, soup, schmear, matzo balls, pickles, and other condiments are beautifully illustrated and explained. They finally make way for the desserts like black-and-white cookies, hamantaschen, rugelach, all considered Jewish deli food.

The end of the book is dedicated to contemporary delis throughout the United States, listing their names and locations.

This illustrated guide pays tribute, in a playful and simplified yet precisely documented manner, to delicatessens for which the author holds genuine admiration and culinary passion. It is a magnificent guide that readers can leaf through and discover, through illustrations, the culinary history of Jews and the role that food plays in delicatessens in preserving Ashkenazi Jewish culinary heritage.