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Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen Hardcover – 1 Oct 2009

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--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 319 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (1 Oct. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151013845
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151013845
  • Product Dimensions: 21.4 x 15.4 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,068,640 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"David Sax is the M. F. K. Fisher of pickled meats. After "Save the Deli, " you ll never take a pastrami sandwich for granted again. You ll also be moved by Sax s wonderful portrayal of the folks behind the counters, and their fascinating thoughts on cultural identity, the relentless passage of time and, of course, kreplach." A. J. Jacobs, author of "The Know It All, The Year of Living Biblically, " and the forthcoming "The Guinea Pig Diaries"

"Nobody this young should be so smart or know so much aboutdelicatessens. He may go down in history as a Jewish hero, the man who saved rye bread. The kid knows how to eat and he knows how to write. You can't ask for more than that, although a glass of cream soda is always nice." Alan Richman, author of "Fork It Over: The Intrepid Adventures of a Professional Eater


"What if they gave a pastrami on rye and nobody came? Unthinkable? That's what you think. David Sax knows better, and traces the history of the American (and Canadian. And British!) deli-- its arrival, its rise, its potential fall, its possible salvation-- with passion, humor, "chutzpah," and "tam." Enjoy."-- Ellis Weiner, co-author of "Yiddish with Dick and Jane "and "Oy! Do This, Not That"

"A delightful tour of Jewish delicatessens across the nation and abroad, David Sax opens a necessary discussion about the very future of those beloved, yet dwindling, institutions. "Save the Deli" is a great read."--Ed Koch

"This book is the result of an epic journey, akin to "The Odyssey" but with Rolaids. With insight, passion, and a digestive system at which one can only marvel, Sax peers between the layers of a pastrami sandwich and glimpses the evolution of community and identity in North America today."--Roger Bennett, author of "Bar Mitzvah Disco" and "Camp Camp"

"David Sax's passionate manifesto for sustaining the Jewish deli is so intensely evocative that to read it is like inhaling the aroma of steaming corned beef getting sliced and piled high on glossy-crusted seeded rye, then plated with half-sour pickles and a crisp latke on the side. A voluptuous mitzvah for schmaltzophiles, it also is a singularly practical guide to the best delis from coast to coast and around the world." -- Jane and Michael Stern, authors of "500 Things To Eat Before It's Too Late and Roadfood"

David Sax s book on delicatessens is an important work. The food is an important part of the Jewish culture. We could not have grown up without it. I totally enjoyed our interview and I must say that the book is a great read for anyone, from the culture conscious to the foodies. " " Fyvush Finkel, (Yiddish theater legend, actor"Picket Fences" and "Boston Public")

"Save the Deli" is a Bromo-fueled cri de coeur on behalf of the uniquely Ashkenazic food that keeps its devotees, whether Jewish or not, from going goyish into that good night. Part elegy, part lament, part rallying cry for a generation whose nitrate levels are already dangerously low, David Sax s book is an unparalleled look at the past, present and possible future of the pastrami, corned beef, smoked meat, kishka and cabbage rolls that have given generations the strength to kvetch and a reason to do so. Michael Wex, author of "Born to Kvetch"

"Just the thought of a book dedicated to the history and cultural importance of Jewish Deli in North American makes my mouth water. And who better to take on the project than passionate writer and adventurer David Sax. His knowledge and experience make him the perfect man for the job. Without a bible like this how will our next generation of eaters know the delight and pure satisfaction of biting into that perfect pastrami on rye, smothered in mustard and accompanied by a full-sour dill pickle?" -- Gail Simmons, Judge on Bravo's "Top Chef"

"The wandering of the Jews is frozen in the marble of the corned beef on rye. The fall of the Temple, the exile, life in the ghetto, reliance on the cheapest meat and the ensuing need to tenderize and smoke and spice, the crossing to the New World -- it all culminates in the towering sandwich you find at the Carnegie in New York, Junior's in L.A., Manny's in Chicago. . . . In his deeply satisfying new book "Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen," David Sax sets out to tell this story one city, one deli, one tradition at a time . . . tasting and kvetching and chronicling the state of the cuisine, all this activity set against a dread premonition -- that the deli is going away, and the long run is over." "LA Times"

" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From the Inside Flap

"With insight, passion, and a digestive system at which one can only marvel, Sax peers between the layers of a pastrami sandwich and glimpses the evolution of Jewish community and identity." Roger Bennett, author of "Bar Mitzvah Disco"

As a journalist and life-long deli obsessive, David Sax was understandably alarmed by the state of Jewish delicatessen. A cuisine that had once thrived as the very center of Jewish life had become endangered by assimilation, homogenization, and health food trends. He watched in dismay as one beloved deli after another one institution after another shuttered, only to be reopened as some bland chain-restaurant laying claim to the very culture it just paved over.

And so David set out on a journey across the United States and around the world in search of authentic delicatessen. Was it still possible to "Save the Deli"?

Join David as he investigates everything deli-- its history, its diaspora, its next generation. He tells about the food itself how it s made, who makes it best, and where to go for particular dishes. And, ultimately, he finds is hope-- deli newly and lovingly made in places like Boulder, traditions maintained in Montreal, and iconic institutions like the 2nd Avenue Deli resurrected in New York.

So grab a pastrami on rye and sit down for a great read-- because "Save the Deli "is an energetic cultural history of Jewish food, a vibrant travelogue, and a rallying cry for a new generation of food lovers.

" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Top Customer Reviews

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David Sax writes beautifully balanced sentences full of sharp insight. . ""With an army of restaurant consultants and designers at their disposal, the developers of Las Vegas casinos have managed to conquer the last stronghold of independent eating in America, turning the upper end of the food chain into another packaged concept." Or try this slice of writing straight from the steamer. "The narrow space between the counters became a gauntlet of doom, as hip checks and arm grapples met brazen countermen who dared walk into another man's space." This book is so well written that even a vegetarian could enjoy it. The author loves the world of the deli. He writes with sensitivity. He is an investigative journalist who uncovers the light secrets. After 45 years living in London, I thought I knew everything there was to know about London delis. I was wrong. No London writer has discovered as much as Sax. I never thought to read again of the Nosh Bar, Phil Rabin's and Carol's - the Great Windmill Street legends - or learn that a deli-man who had worked at all three and more could be found in Edgware at a place called B&K. Sax is a Salt Beef Bard and Poet of Pastrami. Help yourself - you'll be going back for more.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9bd55f0c) out of 5 stars 75 reviews
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9bd89cb4) out of 5 stars Cutting against the grain 3 Sept. 2009
By korova - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
New Yorkers are going to hate this book. Not only does it name the two best cities for deli as Los Angeles (all true New Yorkers can't stand LA, especially transplants who have to live or work there) and Montréal (CANADA? Huh??), it was written by a guy from Toronto. How can NYC not be the undisputed Deli Capital of the World? And what does a Canadian know from deli, anyway?

The answer is this: David Sax is on a mission. It's right there--it's the title of the book! Sax has traveled the world in search of the best of Jewish delicatessen culture and food. Believe me, Sax knows just about all there is to know about the deli classics everybody is familiar with, like pastrami, bagels, and knishes, as well as about hardcore Jewish soul food, such as p'tcha, kishke, and cholent. He's eaten more deli than you can possibly imagine. He knows what he's talking about.

Sax keeps the tone light and entertaining for the most part, even though Save the Deli serves up generous helpings of history, food criticism, and travel writing. The only (minor) flaw in the text is that Sax hasn't woven the chapters into a flowing and coherent whole very well. Some sections end abruptly, while others feel somewhat disconnected from the material that follows. This may stem from his background as a magazine writer. Nonetheless, the book is enjoyable and fun to read overall.

Bottom line: Save the Deli is a combination travelogue, tribute, and polemic. While Sax's aim is serious, he leavens his writing with a great deal of humor and sensitivity. Anybody who loves corned beef on rye with lots of mustard, always stops for fresh rugelach, or is just a dedicated fresser will dig this book. Maybe New Yorkers will too, when all is said and done. 3.5 stars rounded up to 4 for daring to buck the conventional wisdom about NYC delis.

[a personal note: for those who think Canada can't possibly have good deli, I have four words for you. Smoked meat. Montréal bagels. `Nuff said.]

Two books in a similar vein to this one:
Eat This!: 1,001 Things to Eat Before You Diet-eat your way across the United States
The Man Who Ate Everything-pompous and pretentious, yet utterly compelling
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9be19bd0) out of 5 stars I See a Pastrami Sandwich in My Future! 12 Sept. 2009
By Laurie Gold - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I'm a secular Jew raised in Los Angeles, home of a huge Jewish population. As I get older - yet not more devout - I feel more Jewish, probably because I live smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt. I also live with a foodie who has a tremendous fondness for deli, yet, because I'm not much of a meat eater, I've never even eaten a pastrami or corned beef sandwich. All of those things add up to a person surprisingly interested in a book devoted to Jewish delis.

The book begins with an anecdote about author David Sax's grandfather, who, upon being released from the hospital after a bout of angina, stopped off at his favorite deli on the way home, ate a sandwich piled high with fatty meat, then dropped dead. Perhaps it is only a Jew who could write such a story with fond humor, and perhaps it is only another Jew who could laugh when reading it, but for me, the author's tremendous verve and humor served him well throughout SAVE THE DELI, a book that traces not only the Jewish Deli - in the U.S., Canada, and Europe - but also provides context in the way of Jewish history.

Most of his food-related stories, descriptions, and metaphors charmed me, but very occasionally they fell flat, particularly when he waxed poetic. I totally get the joys of sinking your teeth into a slice of double-baked rye bread, with its chewiness and airy density...what I don't get is how cured meat smells like a fine fragrance on a beautiful woman.

Luckily those awkward moments are few and far between, and throughout most of the book, devoted to a world tour of deli, Sax delivers a foodie high of cured meats, baked goods, and a liberal does of schmaltz - as in the rendered fat of poultry that is, as the author writes in his inimitable fashion, an "aphrodesiac to Jewish men." The author's fondness of the larger-than-life personalities of Deli Men (and occasional women) is irresistible, and even readers like me who grew up around deli but were never particularly affected by it, will feel his sorrow about its slow demise. It's not just the story of Jews, but the story of small business owners throughout the last thirty years. And his bittersweet visit to Poland brings it all together with what might have been had not an entire religion been nearly systematically wiped off the face of Europe.

SAVE THE DELI serves as a restaurant guide to travelers, and as an historical text of urban life - focusing on white flight, food costs and the price of real estate - as well as changes in diet and the franchisement of food in the U.S. Some of the information Sax imparts is new, some is not, but it is the context he provides to all of it that, along with descriptions of the back-breaking work and huge forces of personality involved in successful delis, that makes the book worth reading.

Sax hits certain themes over and over again, and though he tends to repeat himself, it's not an onerous problem. What's particularly fun is seeing how many of the delis mentioned - or dishes described - the reader's eaten. And for the Texans among us (my husband included), heretofore hidden joys of smoked meat in Montreal, kind of a mix between Texas BBQ and traditional deli - beckon loudly.

As for readers like my husband, who can recall in equal reverence toasted rye bread topped with onions cooked in schmaltz and his favorite fine dining dishes (and kitchen inventions)...well, he's getting the book next. I imagine a pastrami sandwich is somewhere in my future.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9bd919cc) out of 5 stars Mouthwatering Memoir of Jewish Delis 3 Oct. 2009
By A. Silverstone - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
David Sax has produced a book that induced hunger pangs every time I sat down to read a chapter. His primary mission is to identify the surviving (and hopefully thriving) Jewish deli today, both in the epicenter of the Deli Universe - New York - but also in select cities around the US, and even some in Europe. However, Sax also sets the historical context, describing the rise of Deli culture to the peek of the golden age in the 40s and 50s and then the inevitable decline. Alternately, Sax is mourning the disappearance of the Jewish deli and celebrating islands of thriving deli culture that he finds in both expected (Los Angeles) and unexpected (Boulder) cities. There is much description of the different pickling processes to produce pastrami and corned beef, comparisons of matzoh ball soup, and the Pavlovian descriptions of the less well-known, but more arterial clogging speck (pickled brisket fat), kishke (schmaltz-stuffed intestine) and grine (chicken skin cracklings). To help out, Sax includes both a glossary, and a listing of all the delis he visited. Although there is much to mourn in the passing of so many delis, there is reason to snap on your bib and head out to find the still-surviving and newly inaugurated delis that are true to the time-tested techniques of food preparation that produce sandwiches to die for.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9bd9187c) out of 5 stars Bright tastes and dark shadows 28 Aug. 2009
By Paper or Kindle - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
David Sax has a passion for deli, and he's willing to travel the world, literally, to find it. No dish is too exotic, which reminds me of Anthony Bourdain, but while Bourdain explores all culinary bases, David Sax sticks to the rib-sticking food of his youth. He gives a good picture of all the people he meets, and their quirks, but his descriptions of the food will really make you drool. Better have a can of Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray soda on hand while you read this!

There is plenty of humor, but a darker side, too, as he considers an exhibit of cooking pots at Birkenau, a [...] extermination camp, and reflects on how Jewish cooking was decimated by the Holocaust. He explores Poland, where some people, Jews and non-Jews alike, are attempting to reanimate the cuisine.

He finds plenty of people as devoted to deli as he is, people who prepare it, serve it, eat it and talk about it with gusto. He explores the history of the foods, the preparation and the short-cuts (such as instant corned beef, at which he practically sneers).

There are some charming photographs of delicatessens and the people who maintain them, but I would really have liked some recipes. Although there is a list of delicatessens, and a glossary for people who don't know what all these dishes are, it would have been absolutely terrific to have some basic recipes for the home cook to try.

If you've never tried delicatessen, try reading this book. It may well give you an appetite!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9bd919c0) out of 5 stars Enjoyable, well written, and informative 19 Sept. 2009
By J. Schwartz - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Enjoyable, well written, and informative

David Sax mixes history, sociology, economics, and most of all humor, to produce a near definitive snapshot of the state of deli today. Like a great sandwich, the ingredients complement each other to produce a delicious creation. The book is organized as a travelogue, starting in New York, then following Sax's meanderings around the United States. He ends with a look at deli in other countries.

His coverage of Canadian delis is excellent, reflecting his north-of-the-border origins. His coverage of some of the most important east coast delis is surprisingly poor. He acknowledges this in the book when he briefly mentions his lack of time to visit the delis of Baltimore and Philadelphia. He should have taken more time to visit and research these remaining east coast cities. The coverage of delis in Middle America was fascinating, but this made the neglect of key east coast cities even more irritating, hence the "near definitive" comment above.

Do you have to be Jewish to like this book? No, but it helps (sorry for the cliché). There is ample background material and a glossary for the Yiddishly challenged.

Warning, reading this book will inspire you to seek out the fattiest pastrami you can find, and it may motivate you to take your own deli road trip. I know I'll be taking the book with me when I travel to the cities Sax visited. Hopefully, the delis he fell in love with will still be there.
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