Ask Google about the Jewish food history of Toronto and you’ll get nothing. Ask author/storyteller Michael Wex about Toronto Jewish food history and he’ll talk about immigrants, Sabbath observance, and cholent.
With a population of nearly 2.5 million people, half of whom were born outside Canada, Toronto is the most multicultural city in North America, and one of the most multicultural in the world. You can travel around the world in one weekend without ever leaving the city. Some ethnicities even have multiple ethnic neighborhoods. A short 5 ½ mile walk will take you through four ethnic neighborhoods.
The 75-year-old Midtown landmark located just a couple of blocks from Carnegie Hall (and from its rival, the Carnegie Deli) still has its website — with tantalizing photos of overstuffed pastrami sandwiches, crunchy pickles, tangy coleslaw, and creamy cheesecakes — up, but now the food is only for looking at, not tasting. Gone are the sandwiches that gustatorily honored celebrity customers like Mel Brooks, Larry David, Katie Couric, Howie Mandel, Al Rocker, Cindy Adams and Dolly Parton.
It may be hard to believe that for some bagel lovers, New York bagels are not the be all and end all. Not everyone may know it, but Montreal is a big bagel town, too. And now some U.S. cities — New York, included — are serving Montreal bagels on their turf.
“My folks are from Montreal, so I always grew up with a sense of bagel superiority,” David Sax, Jewish food connoisseur and author of “Save the Deli,” told the Jew and the Carrot. He thinks a niche market for Montreal bagel has formed since word got out around the U.S. about them from ex-Montrealers and others who visited the French-speaking city, tasted the bagels there, and loved them.
Three years ago, Zane Caplansky applied to the city of Toronto to sell Montreal-style smoked-meat sandwiches from a cart. Confronted with red tape that would have required a steep investment in a mobile kitchen, he dropped the idea.
Bad news for the aspiring vendor became a boon for Toronto foodies. Caplansky instead started selling smoked-meat sandwiches from the back of a Toronto bar. Insane demand, fueled by word of mouth, led to the 2009 opening of Caplansky’s, his massively successful deli on the northern edge of the city’s historically Jewish Kensington Market neighborhood. “Caplansky’s did more to put Toronto on the map as a deli city than anyone else in half a century,” says David Sax, author of “Save the Deli” and a Forward contributor.
Animal science expert Temple Grandin suggests some steps that kosher slaughterhouses could take to improve animal welfare on the op-ed page of the Forward.
Josh Ozersky ponders why he thinks Jewish food is bad “I don’t claim to have an answer for this problem, which is one of the most baffling in all of American culinary history.” We’re not sure we agree with his whole shtick but it’s worth a read in TIME.
Couldn’t make it to the Atlantic’s Food Summit in DC this week? Read about it on the Atlantic. One session at the conference sought to define sustainability. “Most people agree that ‘sustainability’ is a good thing when it comes to food, but there’s a big problem with the term: It’s incredibly hard to define,” writes Daniel Fromson about the session, where four experts shared their definitions.
Jewish meat delis have gotten much attention, in the past couple of years (thank you David Sax). But little notices has been given to the fish counter of classic dairy delis. Shelsky’s Smoked Fish, which will open in Brooklyn in the coming month, will offer “smoked salmon, house-pickled herring, house-cured herring, bagels, bialys and rugelach,” reports the Village Voice.
Unlike most of my friends, my parents didn’t inherit a lot of Jewish food traditions from my grandparents. My mother’s family had been in Canada for so many generations that they ate like WASPs. She grew up with roast beef dinners washed down with a glass of milk, and her mother’s cooking, which I experienced on visits to Montreal, was more a source of comedy than comfort.
Grandma cooked from a lot of cans and powders, which came out of a deep pantry that seemed to be restocked every two decades. She was capable of making a mean roast beef, it’s true, but a stern frugality flavored everything in that Formica kitchen. Her favorite dishes to prepare were “concoctions”, essentially experiments with leftovers. Some — the vanilla iced cream she melted, mixed with crushed red and white swirly mints liberated from restaurants, and refrozen — had their charms. Others, like the casseroles of no discernable origin, had my father sneaking out to Snowdon Delicatessen after dinner, to cleanse his palate with salted meats.
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