American Deli Hunter
Being lucky enough to go on a super exciting trip to America on the hunt for antipasti ideas and inspiration, I never fail to be astounded by the sheer enormity of those big style delicatessens which our friends across the pond appear to have refined and excelled in! The fusion of European cuisine bought over by a few centuries fuelled by mass immigration – from kosher traditionalists to healthier, modern newcomers, makes it always so exciting to see what’s going on over there, and my eyes always get bigger than my belly with each portion I eat.
The recent American food invasion has seen the table turned slightly, influencing how we eat hot dogs, burgers, BBQ and condiments over here in the UK over recent years; it’s only natural that the likes of antipasti follows suit. What surprised me were the subtle differences I found between the US and UK style antipasti products, some for the better and some not so much.
My Deli tour took me around the famous Lower East Side Delicassen Katz, famed for it’s corned beef and pastrami; Zabars Broadway speciality food store, Grand Central Market; then onto Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. Of course, as expected walking into a New York deli, everything is done on a grander scale, with slabs full of piled high meats, cheese, veg, bread and other colourful ingredients towering all around you, you get the feeling you’re walking into the centre of a giant antipasti platter! This is an ideal set up for shoppers to pull together their favourite selection and perhaps get introduced to something new. What I really love is the way your senses are hit with colours, aromas and textures in abundance. The attention to personalisation that allows the shopper to ‘build their own’ or take away a pre-packed meal, seems a perfect solution for the time-poor, busy New York commuters.
Katz’s reputation had preceded itself, making it number one on my list of places to see, and it didn’t disappoint. A meat lovers haven with portions the size of a Man Vs. Food contest, healthy alternatives were not on the forefront of the menu, but mammoth sized cuts of mouth-watering quality pastrami, brisket, salamis and sausages were plenty.
I’m a true advocate of healthy eating, especially in field that I work in, however, I’m sad to hear the tradition of these internationally renowned eateries might be at risk from the change in trend to healthier meals with the recent closure of midtown stage deli The Carnegie. I truly believe there’s space for both healthy and indulgent cuisines to live side by side, and I believe healthier antipasti and ancient grains mixed are the key for modernising the perception of traditional delis in order to keep them going as they have kept New Yorkers and other urban Americans going for hundreds of years.
In the other deli’s mammoth sized olives dominated the antipasti aisles with surprisingly little other vegetables and I was disappointed not to find as much of the innovation in ingredient mixes and flavours that you would expect to find on our retailer shelves in the UK. However, being a spice fan I was pleased to see an array of all shapes, sizes and varieties of chilli peppers all over the place. Quinoa played a starring role in various different forms, using different flavour combinations hand in hand with the antipasti. I think this is clear proof that there’s room for more ancient grains to feature on our deli counters.
What I’ve loved most about my jaunt around the delicatessens is the grand presentation, layers of flavours, colours and textures which give you so much choice and added value, plus the freedom to create your own personalised meal, bespoke and catered to your own needs, is a slick and impressive operation.