Why I’m a cultural Jew

March 9, 2011 • 6:42 am

As a form of self-affirmation, I submit for your consideration the pastrami sandwich at Harold’s New York Deli in Edison, New Jersey:

And it’s great pastrami.  There’s also a pickle bar.  Go hungry.  Oh, and don’t forget the latkes.  The decision between sour cream and applesauce is one of the great Jewish dilemmas, which I always settle by having both.

Here’s an awesome video of Harold’s. Note the huge cakes, the gargantuan matzo balls, and the triple-decker ten pound sandwiches:

71 thoughts on “Why I’m a cultural Jew

    1. There’s extra bread at the pickle bar. I’m not sure, though, whether Harold’s serves kishkes (intestines).

      1. Ah — so it’s not so much intended as a sandwich as it is a plate of brisket served with bread. Makes sense.

        Speaking of kishke, that was the side dish at Thanksgiving dinner this past year at Mom & Dad’s…first time in ages they’ve made it. They actually started a couple days earlier by making the schmaltz and the matzohs, and had to go to a German (!) sausage shop in town to find the casings.



      1. Which size is that in the photo?

        By my guess, it’d easily serve four to six non-teenaged-linbackers; any way you look at it, it makes it quite reasonably priced.


      2. Ah, thanks – I was reading review comments – it’s the triple decker – as seen in the video, that’s a bit over $50.00 bucks. 10 lbs of meat! 😀

  1. That looks so good! I want one … like NOW! (Chances of finding anything just vaguely resembling that in Copenhagen are slim to none. Note to self: must travel!)

    1. The grass is always greener. Stuck in landlocked Colorado, I frequently pine for some pickled herring in the breakfast bar first thing in the morning.

      1. Pickled herring is good – I admit that, but as you say: The grass is always greener. I think the only answer to that truthism is: travel to greener grass frequently.

  2. :sigh: It’s not a sandwich, it’s a joke. I get so tired of that gimmick-crap.

    So, even if I grant the pastrami might be good pastrami, the way the pallet works, that grotesque over-abundance is a fucking tragedy. You will, long before it’s done, lose positives for the food and it will end up as leftovers or an exercise in masochism as your poor pallet is overwhelmed.

    1. Kinda with you thre. While I do like pastrami, this is plain silly. It’s just a pile of pastrami, garnished with a piece of rye bread. Are you supposed to throw the bread away?


      PS I lived in Edison for 11 years and I have eaten at Harolds. It is very good.

    2. LOL! You mean palate, but in this case, pallet is a wonderful Freudian slip. Might need a forklift, too.

  3. Harold’s in Edison is great. For the uninitiated, the menu states unequivocally that the sandwich feeds several people, and that extra bread is available on the pickle bar (and don’t forget the sour tomatoes and health salad). Yes, they have kishka. For the non-meat lover, the sable plate has lots of fish, bagels, cream cheese, and salad. Judging from the customers of many ethnic backgrounds that I see there, you don’t have to be Jewish to love the place.

    In my experience, the regular sized sandwich serves two and the large sandwich serves four, maybe with some to take home.

    Happy Purim, Jerry, and happy St. Patrick’s Day to my Irish friends.

  4. True story: I was at a Grateful Dead show (or rather run of shows) in Mountain View CA (Shoreline Amphitheater) in the early 1990’s. At the time the parking lot, pre and post show, was “Shakedown Street, a carnival of sorts, with people selling food, t-shirts, and other assorted items. I hear a distinctively Brooklyn accent crying out, “Knishes! Potato and Spinach Knishes!” Of course I had to ask where they were from (Williamsburg, of course) and whose recipe they used (again, of course, it was Grandma’s). Oy Vey, those knishes were good!
    Oh and after a show at the Hartford Civic Center, I was with my brother-in-law, and we met up with his friends. Our post show meal was grandma’s gefilte fish and horseradish. Oy vey, good stuff, not that crap from the jar. This ethnic Finn (paternal grandparents were Finn and Suomi) was in heaven. I love fish, be it pickled, smoked, salted, or raw. I attribute it to my grandmother, who also fed me coffee at 8 years old.

  5. And the maztoh ball soup is just as obscene. Two matzoh balls the size of grapefruits, but they are the lightest, fluffiest things I’ve ever eaten.

    Dang, now I’ve got to go to Harold’s this weekend.

  6. I will allow that the best deli food is in NY/NJ. But where can one go in Chicago for something like this? Surely you don’t go entirely pastrami-free between visits?

    1. Manny’s, on Roosevelt. But it’s thin gruel compared to Harold’s, Katz’s, or the Carnegie Deli. . .

    2. Sadly these places are becoming harder to find in the Chicago area. Siegelman’s Deli is closing in Arlington Heights this weekend. They had good pastrami & corned beef sandwiches with all you can eat deli pickles. I’ll have to drive to Max & Benny’s in Northbrook or Chicago Bagel & Bialy Deli in Wheeling to get my fix now.

  7. Why I’m not: Delicious as all those things are, they could be made more delicious by the judicious use of bacon.

    1. My sister, many years ago: “You mean they can’t put swiss cheese on their ham sandwiches? Oh, wait…”

    2. Woody Allen wrote a story in which a Jewish pilgrim travels untold distances to be able to meet the wisest, most learned, and most pious rabbi of his time. Ushered into the presence of the great sage, he asks, “Rebbe, why are we not allowed to eat bacon?”, to which the rabbi replied, “We’re not? Uh-oh.”

    1. My one grandmother always carried plastic sandwich bags with her in her large over sized purse. She was always ready when she attended Bar Mitzvahs, weddings, birthdays, conferences, funerals and so on. Good food should never be wasted.

      1. My grandma would stuff her purse full of bread, pickles, plates, napkins,silverware, ashtrays and get a very satisfied look on her face. No kidding.

    2. My grandmother come over from Glasgow Scotland at age 14.
      Dinner rolls not eaten were definitely wrapped and taken. And anything else not nailed down.

  8. Google is not your friend.

    This serving of mouthwatering ribs (Fig. 6) is much, much larger than a ka-zayit (“olive’s volume”) of pork, so you deserve a good flogging as demanded by the Torah:

    eating a ka-zayit [olive’s volume] of pork carries the punishment of flogging

    Will you be blogging your flogging? Selling contraband like this will still draw actual attacks in Israel.

  9. It’s sad how gluttony is celebrated in our society. Can you imagine France having a show celebrating binge eating?

    P.S., I enjoy good pastrami as much as any person, but that amount of meat is just dumb.

    1. I’d rather think of that sandwich as akin to a pizza. You’d order one for the whole table, in which case it not only makes sense, but is a darned good idea.

      That ten-pound sandwich would be perfect for a party.



  10. A ten pound sandwich is equivalent to forty quarter-pound-sized servings!

    With just three of them, you could feed yourself nothing but brisket for the proverbial forty days and forty nights!


  11. I used to love the pastrami from United Kosher in Ottawa when I was a kid but they didn’t look like that! That’s even with factoring in the fact that you always seem to remember things being bigger when you were a kid…

  12. Traitor. Sneaking off to Jersey for that sandwich…the occasionally rude and funny waiters at the Carnegie(where the pastrami towers just as high, I’ll have you know) have informed me that it’ll be very difficult for me to get a table at the Carnegie, now that they know a good friend of mine went to Jersey for pastrami.

  13. I’ve enjoyed all the Jewish food posts here, and have made special trips to all the NYC locations mentioned. However I’m now in a bit of a quandary, having read Johann Hari’s article on Halal&Kosher food in the UK.(link below) Do kosher butchers in the USA also avoid numbing/stunning their animals? And would popular places like Katz’s and Harold’s use kosher pastrami? The ~6minute drowning-while-conscious process Hari describes is very grisly, so I hope there’s something I’m missing.


  14. To the vegetarians feeling left out for lack of giant vegetarian dishes: LOOK NO FURTHER. The Mighty Paper Dosa is your friend. Here is a representative sample I found at a travel blog:

    While you show it off, you can also brag about how the Mighty Paper Dosa (or almost any other vegetarian dish) is more environment-friendly than almost any thing which contains red meat.

  15. My question is, does being a cultural Jew mean you choose not to eat delectable abominations like scallops wrapped in bacon?

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