Deli Food For Syrian Jews?
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Deli Food For Syrian Jews?

Ted Merwin’s column appears monthly. He writes about theater for the paper and is the author of the award-winning “Pastrami on Rye,” a history of the Jewish deli.

Redolent of tamarind, allspice, cinnamon and honey, and often made with vegetables and dried fruits, the Mediterranean and Levantine cuisine of Syrian Jews differs markedly from the salty, garlicky, fatty fare that forms the basis of traditional Eastern European Jewish cookery. But for Yaron Harazi, the owner of Brooklyn on Rye, a new kosher deli at 543 Kings Highway in Midwood (brooklynonrye.com), deli sandwiches are just the ticket for the growing Sephardic population in that district. “Syrians especially like bologna,” he said. “I’m selling bologna sandwiches as fast as I can make them.”

Harazi, who is the product of an Israeli father and American mother, grew up on the Lower East Side. He has worked in delis since the age of 13, flipping frankfurters on a grill. Brooklyn on Rye opened quietly last month (and formally on Labor Day weekend), selling deli, along with fried chicken and shawarma, to the Syrian Jewish men whose wives and children had decamped to Deal, N.J., or to the Catskills for the summer.

Last spring, Harazi and his partners, one of whom is Syrian, also opened a stand at the Barclays Center, selling sandwiches at sporting events and mostly hot dogs and knishes at the circus and other kids’ shows. Harazi’s bustling deli near Ocean Parkway, with only eight tables, plays off the Barclays theme with posters of New York sports teams, past and present, on the walls.

Ashkenazic food is no stranger to the neighborhood; half a dozen blocks north of the deli, on Coney Island Avenue, is Pomegranate, the high-end kosher market that boasts a full kosher deli counter. And there is yet another kosher deli, Essen, two blocks south of Pomegranate. But the opening of a new kosher deli is a rare event; while there were more than 1,500 kosher delis in the city in the 1930s, the number has fallen steadily ever since, and only about 1 percent of that number remain in the five boroughs. One of the longest survivors in the Midwood/Flatbush area, Adelman’s, was located on Kings Highway between East 19th Street and Ocean Avenue; it closed last year after six decades in business.

“Every two weeks another kosher restaurant opens,” Elan Kornblum, the publisher of Great Kosher Restaurants Magazine, observed. “The economy is doing better; people are going out more. But people want more than deli; most of the restaurants opening are French, steak, and Asian.”

Poopa Dweck, who is an expert on Syrian Jewish gastronomy — her most recent cookbook, “Aromas of Aleppo” (Ecco, 2007), won a National Jewish Book Award — told The Jewish Week that her relatives have always loved deli-type foods, especially organ meats, which they prepared with a Sephardic twist. “We ate lamb brain omelets and boiled tongue with sweet and sour fruits,” she recalled. “Deli sandwiches aren’t a far cry from what I grew up with,” she reflected. “We never had a meal without bread.”

editor@jewishweek.org

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