Isn’t it time you paid your local deli a visit?
Posted Wednesday, April 11 2012 at 00:00
A reader once asked me what a delicatessen was, and whether there was a difference between one and a butchery.
For the sake of this reader and others who might be interested, let us look at what exactly a delicatessen is.
Delicatessen is derived from the German word delicatessen, which is plural for delicacies. It means exactly that: delicacy. In gastronomic terms, it means delicacies or fine foods. The term Dindicates foods, especially meats, which are more delicately prepared and, therefore, more expensive.
Modern deli (short for delicatessen) meats are made from fresh meats that are cured, and then either finely chopped or emulsified. The meats are then shaped into loaves or baked.
Deli meats can be cured in two ways; wet or dry. Wet curing refers to meat soaked or injected with salt brine (water saturated with salt) or a pickling solution.
Most hams, sausages, pastramis, and corned beefs are wet cured. Dry curing refers to meats salted and seasoned and then hung or air-dried for a long period.
Dry cured meats include prosciutto, dried beef (the popular biltong from South Africa), and hard salami. Poultry deli meats (chicken and turkey) are usually cooked (in an oven or by steaming), honey roasted, or smoked.
Cured ham, which is marinated and lightly spiced, is also popular, especially at deli counters in local supermarkets.
Massive migration of Europeans to the United States of America in the early 20th century introduced foods such as pizza and other delicatessen items.
Delicatessen got shortened to deli and it became a way of life from the ’80s, when home cooking became less popular and take-aways and eating out replaced family meals.
Delis in the US are small counters within grocery shops, supermarkets, or sandwich bars. Made-to-order sandwiches are the norm in American delis, as are accompanying salads with ingredients such as pasta, potato, chicken, tuna, and shrimp. Also augmented of course are milk shakes, coffees, cookies and desserts.
In the United States, most delis are Jewish (kosher). As a result of this, Americans refer to those that specialise in Italian and German cuisine as “European delicatessens.”
In Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, “Delikatessen” (as it is spelled in (German) has a rather different meaning; it designates top-quality (and top-price) foods.
The shops which sell them are called Delikatessenläden (“stores for delicacies”), and department stores often have a Delikatessenabteilung (“delicacies department”).
You can also find delicatessen in Denmark, Belgium, and The Netherlands. None of these sell the take-out food that is characteristic of North American delicatessen.
Typical Delicatessen Items