“I’ll fight ya for dat last knish laddie”
Yes, St. Paddy’s is almost upon us, but please don’t expect me to color the site green and eat emerald colored matzo balls. It just ain’t happenin’. I did go to an Irish pub last night and consumed some great whisky, which is about as shamrock shaking as this Yid gets.
But over the next few days, Jewish delis around North America, and especially cities like New York, Chicago, and Philly are going to be selling more corned beef than they’ve likely done all year. While the lore has it that the Irish brought corned beef to America, the truth is decidedly more deli-centric. Corned beef and cabbage is an Irish-American/Jewish-American fusion, made famous by the Irish in New York, who adopted the Jewish corned beef so common there in the late 19th century (as a substitute for bacon), spiced it to their liking, added cabbage, and made it the patron saint of Saint Patrick’s Day foods.
Photo by KEITH BEATY / TORONTO STAR
There’s a story today in the Toronto Star about this, and about how Jewish delis are selling corned beef this week. Love the picture of my good buddy Lorne Pancer, from Moe Pancer’s Delicatessen. The article also quotes my friend Lara Rabinovitch, a PHD student at NYU, an authority on Jewish food, and the editor of Cuizine: The Journal of Canadian Food Studies.
Although it is known as a St. Patrick’s Day dish, Maxwell says most Irish people would consider corned beef an American thing.
In fact it’s Jewish, which explains why there’s so much more corned beef in Toronto delis than in the Irish pubs any other time of the year.
“Remember, brisket for Jewish people is like chicken,” says Lorne Pancer, owner of Moe Pancer’s Deli Restaurant on Bathurst St. north of Wilson Ave. “You’re talking about a generations-old recipe from Poland,” he says, describing what he calls Pancer Magic, the spice mix his grandfather and his brother brought with them when they emigrated from Poland in the 1920s.
Brisket first and foremost is a cheap cut of meat that benefits from a long cooking period, says Lara Rabinovitch, a PhD student at New York University whose specialty is modern Jewish history and food history. More important, it comes from the lower chest, which means it’s kosher because it doesn’t touch the sciatic nerve or its blood vessels.When it comes to food, Rabinovitch admits that “opinions abound and truth is hard to come by.” The problem is food is shared and recipes passed around and tweaked, and it’s hard to trace their roots.
“All the more so on age-old foods such as corned beef, pastrami and – in Montreal in particular – smoked meat, where arguments over its origins can practically break up families.”
Having said that, corned beef is “most certainly not an Irish food deriving from Ireland,” the Toronto native wrote in an email. “Irish American immigrants did prepare the dish, most likely influenced by their Jewish counterparts in early 20th-century New York City.”
So dress in green, pound away the Guiness, and kiss all the ginger haired Irish you want. Just be happy and proud to chow down on that corned beef sandwich, with extra mustard, and do your part for St. Paddy.
If You’re in Chicago, check out Manny’s St. Patrick’s Day specials.