Reading about the recently reopened 2nd Avenue Deli in Manhattan signaled some droolin’ for delicate but hearty corned beef, pastrami and chopped liver, bringing back memories of my NYC days before returning to Cajun Country, making occasional stops at Katz’s for one of their giant, meaty sandwiches, a refreshing celery soda, and a mouthful of curt service. It also reminded me of how delicious the latkes are at both New York deli hot spots, and how I longed for a bite or two of authentic Jewish fare, even though I’m Catholic, especially during Hanukkah.
Catholic now, but raised Southern Baptist, Methodist and Episcopalian, my mother believed in exploring all cultures. Just the two of us, I would accompany her to International food festivals in the former MacArthur Village Shopping Center where I tried lumpia for the first time. We’d also occasionally meet her boss’s colleague (her boss wasn’t exactly the most generous of men) and his employees at Port-o-Call for poo poo platters. Usually eating at the bar, feeling like one of the grown-ups, I would order a Shirley Temple with extra cherries. Around the corner from our apartment was Owl Fine Foods, a small but stocked Jewish grocery store. During holidays we’d gather Manischewitz matzoh ball soup & such, and parade the aisles planning our pretend gourmet dinners complete with canned escargots and jarred caviar.
One memory that consistently warms my heart is Mom making latkes complete with applesauce and sour cream. Latkes are thin and crispy potato pancakes customarily served during Hanukkah though playing no set part in any ritual. Traditionally, they were savory disks made from grated cheese and egg and fried in oil symbolizing the miracle oil, which provided eight days of light. Now, not only served at Hanukkah, they grace the tables of any holiday table. Yet, why wait for a holiday? If you love turkey & dressing, why wait around until Thanksgiving?
During the Christmas holidays, thanks to the newly opened Fresh Market in the River Ranch community of Lafayette, I bought a box of Manischewitz latke mix to bring to my mom’s along with a bottle of one of my favorite beverages, Orangina. So to combine past childhood memories with thoughts of days in Paris thrown in with some Louisiana flavors, I fried up some boudin balls dipped in egg and crushed Ritz crackers to accompany our latkes complete with all the trimmings, and served both up with a nice bubbly glass of Orangina. Ok, maybe a bit nontraditional, but the latkes tasted pretty authentic, and the crispness of the crackers on the boudin balls was pretty satisfying, not to mention fun.
So no need to wait for the traditional time or place to eat certain foods normally reserved for holidays. If they make you happy, then anytime’s a good time. Bon appétit!
2nd Avenue Deli
162 E. 33rd Street
NY, NY 10016