NYPL Exhibitions


New York’s delicatessens date back to the mid-19th century, opened by German immigrants who sold the cured meats and salads of their homeland. German Jews, however, never ate such food because it was not kosher. They opened their own delicatessens, stocking kosher corned beef, tongue, and beef frankfurters. Jews arriving later in the century from Russia and Eastern Europe shopped in the city’s Jewish delicatessens because they knew everything was kosher, but the food itself was foreign to them. Eventually they began opening their own kosher delicatessens, which carried both German foods and Eastern European specialties including borscht and knishes. Today the term “deli” may refer to almost any store selling cured meats and sandwiches, but a classic New York deli will feature the foods of its German and Eastern European forebears, as well as breads, bagels, smoked fish, and cream cheese.