Soup (Go on, make it a meal)
Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls (a.k.a. kneidelach): The essence of all Yiddish life. Matzo balls are made from matzo flour, schmaltz, and seltzer. Can be either floaters, sinkers, or the rare, perfect mix. Your mother's are always the best, and your mother-in-law's are always the worst.
Mishmosh: Chicken soup fully loaded with matzo balls, kreplach, noodles, rice, chicken, and vegetables.
Cabbage Borscht: Some brisket, some cabbage, some beets, a little tomato juice ... dinner for a month.
Berditchev Soup: Rare Polish vegetable soup with honey, cloves, and spices ... think apple cider meets Campbell's. Served in vaguely anti-Semitic Krakow restaurants.
Mushroom Barley Soup: Rib-sticking soup, often made with beef stock.
Knishes: Baked or fried pockets of dough, filled with potato, kasha, spinach, and sometimes meat scraps from the deli. Served with gravy or from New York vendor carts.
Kishke (a.k.a. Stuffed Derma): Beef intestine stuffed with chicken schmaltz, matzo meal, and the traces of what were once vegetables. Smothered in gravy to reach every last artery.
Kreplach: Little dumplings filled with minced beef and onion, fried or boiled and served with caramelized onions or added to soup.
Kasha Varnishkes: Buckwheat grains and onions sauteed in schmaltz and tossed with bowtie pasta. Served with gravy if you want it to taste like anything.
Tzimmes: Stewed carrots with prunes, honey, raisins, and enough sugar to kill a horse.
Hush Puppies: Hot dog wrapped in a potato knish. Like a pig in a blanket, but somehow puppies are more kosher than pigs.
Gribenes: Chicken skins fried in fat until they crackle. Jewish pork rinds.
Chopped Liver: Fried chicken (or beef) livers, chopped with eggs and fried onions. Loved by babies, despised by kids, rediscovered during pregnancy.
Schmaltz: Fat, most often chicken fat, rendered during the making of soup, cooled, and used for cooking, flavoring, or as an aphrodisiac to attract Jewish men.
P'tcha: Calves' feet and garlic boiled and then cooled into a jelly, set in a mold and sliced. What's not to love?
Gefilte Fish: Minced whitefish poached into a ball. Served with beet sweetened horseradish (chrain).
Coleslaw: Chopped cabbage, vinegar, sugar, spices and for some (ugh) mayonnaise.
Latkes: Fried potato pancakes traditionally eaten at Hanukah. Served with applesauce and all too often a hockey stick.
Deli Meats (The Holy of Holies)
Pastrami: Spiced, cured, smoked navel of beef. The pride of New York, though L.A. does it well too.
Corned Beef/Salt Beef: Pickled and boiled brisket of beef. Good cop to pastrami's bad cop. Best in the Midwest.
Salami: A sausage of minced beef trimmings, spices, fat, and enough salt to melt ice. Served cold, grilled, or fried with eggs.
Karnatzel: Romanian-inspired salami the width of a nickel. Only available in Montreal and best when hung to dry for a week or so.
Pickled Tongue: Like corned beef but with a big cow's tongue. An edible French kiss.
Rolled Beef: A navel butterflied, rolled, tied with string, then cured and smoked like pastrami and sliced paper-thin and cold. Carried by a handful of delis in New York on elusive days.
Baby Beef: Pickled and lightly smoked veal brisket, found only in Toronto. Disappearing rapidly.
Montreal Smoked Meat: Romanian-style spiced, cured, and smoked brisket. The best deli meat you've never eaten.
Roast Brisket: Simple oven-braised brisket. Bland but quite delicate.
Stuffed Chicken: Montreal specialty of minced chicken baloney. Made too often with pork!
Roast/Smoked Turkey: Why even bother?
Kosher Hot Dog: Because kosher-style hot dogs just won't do.
Knoblewurst: Large garlic sausage, eaten hot off the griddle.
Speck: Paprika-dusted, twice-smoked slices of pickled fat from a brisket. Deadly to Saxes.
Excerpted from Save the Deli by David Sax copyright 2009 by David Sax. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.