Jewish Comfort Food

| February 12, 2007 | 8 Comments
  • 8 Comments

I’ve just returned home from a week in Boca Raton, Florida, where I was visiting family. My mother’s side, the New York Jews. Besides making the rounds with my aunt, meeting my cousin’s 1 1/2 year old twins and visiting my 86 year old grandmother in her new little apartment at an assisted living facility, it was important to eat a few times at Way Beyond Bagels.

It was there that I had my first authentic bagel and lox outside of New York City.

Not to mention Black & White Cookies, super almond-extracty Rainbow Cake, a pure, uncut version of smoked whitefish salad, the full line of Dr. Brown sodas, including the intriguing celery pop, and a delightfully familiar, and maybe a little grating, noise of thick lower New York accents.

Like any comfort food, when we re-experience it again, it is cause for a celebration and of memories. And like all memories, their arrival is bittersweet. Memories arrive because something’s been lost. Or we’ve moved to a place where our tribe does not band together and make what we grew up with.

Luckily I moved mere blocks from Saul’s when I came to live in the East Bay a year ago. It’s here I can find chopped liver almost as good as what I remember. When I want to conjure my late grandfather, Samuel Gordon, I buy a few chubs and eat them alone. Shiny and wrinkly gold, the chub arrives wrapped in white paper, with all its parts except for the guts. Smoked whole, they’re slick with a distinctly fatty fishy smoky taste and scent. I’ve never taken part in cold herring from a jar but my legs go weak for smoked fish and I was once graced by homemade gefilte fish.

But bagels? It is my ultimate opinion that there are no real bagels in the Bay Area. I have tried and retried them all. I’ve been cajoled by hopeful and starry eyed non-Jews as well as other deperate New York Jews. Nope, they do not exist here. Just because bread is round does not mean it’s a bagel. When a bagel is a bagel, every gram of your being knows it. It’s taste and texture, the smell of your grandmother’s kitchen. It’s whipped butter, freshly sliced red onions, and too much cream cheese.

So, nu? I just don’t eat them here. I reason to my born-again-Californian self that bagels need to be eaten in their own climate. They need to be in season, and although Northern California is home to many an agricultural delicacy, bagels just do not thrive in this soil. Bagels must be eaten where there is a predominance of kvetching weather, schvitzing heat, and other New York Yids.

And Way Beyond Bagels cures this homesick itch. Even though it’s in Florida.

I have a whole carry on bag full of 2 dozen said bread product to prove it. Now it’s just a matter of sharing them with those who understand the gravity of such luggage…

If you’re looking to cure your Eastern European and/or New York Jewish deli food cravings, I give you this small list of places to start:

California Street Deli
Moishe’s Pippic
Saul’s Deli & Restaurant
Old Krakow

Or if you want to read more about what those who long for Jewish deli food do in the Bay Area, check out this article in The Berkeley Monthly written by John Harris, a man who has even gone so far as to make a movie about the lost Deli. I’m excited to say I’ll be privy to a screening of the movie this Thursday!

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About the Author ()

Shuna fish Lydon was whisked and baked in San Francisco but served and eaten in New York City. She's had a 16 year tumultuous love affair with professional cooking and has BFA in photography from CCAC. Working with and for some of the best chefs in NYC and California, Shuna's resume reads like the who's who of cooking today. She identifies as a fruit-inspired pastry chef and calls the many local farmers' markets her muse. Currently "at large," Shuna spends her time teaching baking and knife skills classes, consulting at local restaurants and writing for a number of outlets about deliciousness.
  • shelly

    You can barely find a good bagel in New York City anymore. Saul’s, however, does make a good corned beef sandwich.

  • melissa

    i’m not sure i could ever leave ny for a place without bagels. not that i eat them so much, but just knowing that they’re here helps me get through the day. you can mail order bagels from H and H which seems like a decent option though they aren’t my fave…. if i was looking for a Jewish bread fix from afar, i think i’d opt for Kossars bialys. you toast them anyway, so a day in the mail won’t hurt too much and they are yumeroo.

  • Joy

    Shuna, love, you better be sharing some of those bagels.

    Also, I’m partial to the ones Miller’s East Coast West Deli flies in from NYC. Closest I’ve found.

  • DM

    Best bagels I’ve found in the bay area are down at Izzy’s Brooklyn Bagels on California Ave in Palo Alto.

  • D-man

    Howdy there Shuna, my monkey LOVES bagels, as do I, and therefore recently attempted my own while making pretzels. I used my sourdough, gave ‘em a boil then an egg wash before baking. They ended up chewy and yeasty and reminded me of Nana Cohen’s house when I was tiny. Served with gobs of the white fluff and lox it is one of my earliest food memories. It’s no wonder that smoked salmon is probably my next favorite thing to sourdough…….I’d love to talk bagels with ya’ sometime. I volunteer for the tues berkeley farmers’ from 5-ish to about 7, and apparently live about a mile from you. Thanks for dropping by the ranch for a sniff of some souffle.

  • ByTheBay

    Before learning that I will never again be able to eat wheat or gluten… I tried hard to find a decent bagel out here and I must be honest… I’d choose Lender’s (mass-produced) bagels over Noah’s any day. The West Coast simply does not know how to do bagels. NYC still has H&H which are the hands-down best. I haven’t found good Jewish food here either, sadly. I thought Saul’s food was not very good. Now I am kosher and can’t eat there at all – I find it rather odd that a Jewish eatery would not be kosher. *shrug*

    I think Jewish food is well worth mail ordering from the east coast!

  • JenniferBB

    Oh I hear you! When I was in seminary in Berkeley in the mid 90s–just as Noah’s Bagels was on the ascent I was adamaent that folks try a REAL bagel. So whenever I went home to NYC I’d bring home H and H bagels (I used to live a block away and they didn’t deliver then) and they would blow people’s minds. At the time I managed to subsist on Murray’s bagels (which used to be across the street from Market Hall on College Ave).

    Now I’m back in New York State and I still have to go downstate to get a REAL bagel.

  • Fatemeh

    Oh. OH.

    Look at the crumb of that begell.