Things have been quiet here in deli world. It’s the summer after all, and most of us are working on our grilling skills, rather than the steam tables. So I figured it’s time to spice things up with some sacriligeous debate right before the high holy days.
I want to talk about treyf. Shrimp. Milk and Meat. Bacon. Ham. Pork. (the later three of which I’m told come from one magical animal!)
Let me preface this by saying that I am in no way kosher. I eat every manner of chazer that crawls upon the earth and feasts from the bottom. I’ve consumed countless cheeseburgers, ribs, wontons, and variations of unclean and unkosher foods over my lifetime. I wasn’t brouht up kosher and I don’t foresee myself ever becoming kosher, let alone the stricter glatt kosher.
And yet, when I go to a delicatessen and I see ham on the menu, or cheese on the sandwiches I cringe. I’ve been told by owners of delis that they’ll openly scold someone for ordering mayonaise on a corned beef sandwich, while they serve Reubens with pride. I have heard them openly mock those who order milk with a pastrami on rye, yet they’ll boast about the quality of their clam chowder. The worst are those who do this and still call themselves “Kosher Style Delis”, and somehow justify it by saying their meat (which they’d dress with lobster if it sold), comes from a kosher-style provisions company.
Here in Canada, where assimilation is less prevelant than in the United States, and where we are somewhat more traditional, you’ll rarely find cheese or pig on the menu at a Jewish delicatessen. But in the United States the best known delis are those who completely ignore any of the kashrut conventions.
Once upon a time all Jewish delis were kosher. Now the kosher delis are in the minority. A lot of this has to do with cost. As more Jews have abandoned kosher living, those who adhere to it have demanded higher and higher standards of inspection. Glatt kosher, the rigorous standard practiced by the orthodox, is extremely labor intensive. A glatt kosher deli, such as Noah’s Ark in New York and New Jersey, must employ a mashgiach, who is paid to supervise the kitchen at each and every deli, for all the hours the place is open. That’s the main reason why kosher delis are much more expensive than non-kosher one’s. Often, rival supervision agencies will refuse to certify a deli unless they pay their rabbis, cutting them off from a chunk of the community. They’ll take out ads in Jewish papers, declaring that “Vaad of Vancouver states that Goldstein’s Deli is no longer kosher”. Many rightly refer to this as extortion.
However, the journey down treyf lane is a perilous one, which delis frequently ignore. What may start off with a slice of swiss on the corned beef can quickly snowball into cobb salads and grilled pork chops. The more Philly cheesesteaks a deli serves, the less attention it is paying to the chopped liver. Variety may be the spice of life, but the delicatessen demands a concentrated effort.
I am not advocating delicatessens all return to kosher standards. That is an unrealistic, and rather expensive option, which would surely eliminate many fine delis from the map. But a line must be drawn somewhere. Pork has no place in a deli. Shrimp has no place in a deli. Pastrami, corned beef, and brisket are meats of such succulence, that cheese only dulls their attributes.
So I open the question to you: is there a minimum kosher standard Jewish delis should adhere to? Or is it a free for all, with all the chazerei on the table?