Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Diasporic Dining XXIX: The Yiddishe Grail

The Holy Grail is what the Knights of the Roundtable sought after. Like the shroud of Turin and the very notion of transubstantiation it represented an attempt to get closer to the body and blood of Christ. If the chalice that Christ drank out of has iconic significance for Christians then the deli occupies a similar place in Yiddish folklore. The deli now an endangered species has become the object of a new crusade by a whole new generation of Jewish professionals who attempt to get closer to the World of  Our Fathers, the Alter Cockers, by eating the food they ate in similar establishment where old Frank Sinatra songs are still piped into the restrooms. One such establishment, which could easily apply to the city of New York for iconographic status, is the Mill Basin Kosher Delicatessen at 5823 Avenue T in Brooklyn. As you can imagine Avenue T is way out there, near the end of Flatbush Avenue, in fact. It’s a schlep, but well worth the crusade. The pastrami at the Mill Basin is as biblically lean as the matzo ball soup is light. They have the Jewish version of the wonton known as the kreplach. And there’s stuffed derma or kishka, which is matzo meal and schmaltz encased by cow or sheep intestine and kasha varnishkes for the faint of heart or those who wish to protect theirs from attack. It may be hard to imagine eating a food named for a part of the body that is so essential to speech. For those who are not used to it tongue may seem a little like ordering mouth, but it’s a cold cut whose essence creates no philosophical quandary for aficionados who eat it on rye with Russian dressing. Pickles half and full sour, cole slaw and even macaroni salad are the manna that introduces all meals at this mecca of Jewish cuisine.

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