Holiday Foodsteps: Ben's Kosher Delicatessen, NYC

Paying a visit to a New York Deli was pretty high up on the list for us - what with all the constant references to them on TV (The Nanny!). Turning once again to our free guide, we picked the deli located closest to where we were staying.

Ben's Kosher Delicatessen
209 West 38th Street
New York, NY 10018, United States

The size of the place really caught me by surprise. Whilst I'd been expecting a tiny outlet quite like the kebab shops in London, Ben's Deli is really a full-fledged restaurant with a deli counter on one side and a spacious dine-in area on the other.

You know you're in completely foreign territory when you look at the menu and realise that you have never heard (and can barely pronounce the names) of most things. What do you do when you have absolutely no idea what to order? You go for a mixed platter, Ronnie's Mixed Platter to be precise. The huge platter of a stuffed cabbage, a slice of derma, meatballs and some chicken posed quite a challenge, even shared between two people. While the chicken and meatballs were fairly conventional, the stuffed cabbage and derma (beef casing stuffed with matzo meal or flour) were a different story altogether. For some reason, perhaps having had far too much sauerkraut over the exam season, I was expecting the cabbage to be on the sour side so to say that the sweet cabbage caught me off-guard is a bit of an understatement. The derma left us a bit intrigued as we spent most of the meal trying to figure out what it was - the stuffing tasted a lot like chickpea flour but when we asked our waiter what it was stuffed with, he just gave us a shrug and told us that if we knew, we probably wouldn't eat it. Upon returning to London and consulting our dear friend Google, it seems that we weren't so off the mark afterall.

The platter came with a choice of two side dishes. Our waiter strongly recommended a serving of fries but we decided to be a little more adventurous by getting egg barley and mushrooms as well as serving of Kashe Varnishkas (buckwheat groats with bowtie pasta). Both side dishes were rather bland and dry, leaving us somewhat disappointed. As the meal progressed, I was beginning to think that there was a reason why our waiter was so adamant about us ordering fries.

Something that seemed quite obvious from the menu was the fact that meat is pretty high on the priority list at these delis. There were still some vegetarian options, though, and the pescatarian among us decided to go for a simple Fresh Veggie Omelette served with potato pancakes and apple sauce.

I have to admit that no other meal has left me quite as perplexed as this one - I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about the food. Some of the flavours were completely new to us and while we enjoyed quite a bit of it, some of the dishes left much to be desired. Perhaps it was more a case of the deli letting us down and not giving us a good representation of what the cuisine is really like. A part of me wishes we had a little more time in the city for a stop at a different deli, just to put things into perspective.

I suppose that's what travelling is all about - new and sometimes perplexing experiences. Also, if you do ever happen to be at Ben's, be sure to look out for the joke that runs along the top of the wall, just for a little laugh.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Tastebudtalk friends,
    glad you stopped in to Ben’s deli. Sounds like you either had a wise guy waiter, one that needs retraining or should be in another job!
    Some tips for the future: use the sauce from your stuffed cabbage or get some gravy for your kasha and egg barley next time…makes a world of difference. A good waiter would have offered it or brought it automatically.
    And yes, delicatessen is about the meats…Ben’s cures its own corned beef and tongue on premises and is equally famous for its pastrami. But for vegetarians, next time take a stroll over to the delicatessen counter where there are several vegetarian options on display. The Cole slaw, which is free all-you-can eat, and the potato salad are both made fresh in the store every day. No preservatives. They are amazing.
    Nothing real fancy at Ben’s. Just honest, made-from-scratch peasant food in the Eastern European tradition. And of course, delicatessen meats, which you missed this time around.
    Oh yeah, the French fries are cut by hand. They are good! Your waiter was right about that.

    Best Regards,

    Ben's Kosher Deli