My father-in-law always asks me if there’s still a Jewish deli in Tokyo. Apparently, he saw one when he visited back in the 90′s, and that surprising image has stuck with him. To give him an answer, I couldn’t rely on experience, I had to trust Google. Growing up in Tokyo, I had never seen or heard of a Jewish deli. In fact, I didn’t even know what the heck a Jewish deli was until I moved to NYC after graduating from college in Boston. Come to think of it, did I ever even try a bagel back then? Luckily, I’ve made up for it since, thanks to my Jewish American husband.
Obviously I’ve changed, because now, Jewish delis are some of my favorite places. Don’t believe me? Visit one to experience the excitement for yourself. As you walk in, every sense is engaged. You hear veteran servers shouting out orders. You see black and white cookies and hearty, doughy bagels waiting to be taken to a good home. You smell succulent pastrami as it’s being sliced, AND if you ask nicely, you can taste a sample. Finally, at your table, your sense of touch grabs that dill pickle to stave off the hunger pangs you’ve just acquired. You may only recognize half of the menu and display case items, but you know they must be good as it’s always crowded– ALWAYS.
I’ve come a long way in my appreciation of the Jewish deli. Before I met my Jewish American husband, only things I ever ordered were items in my comfort zone, like pastrami sandwiches and cheese cake. To be honest, I was just scared to venture into the unknown, never setting foot into the foreign lands of matzo bowl soup and knishes. Even when I conquered that fear, one hurdle remained–pronunciation. How in the world is a Japanese person supposed to order kasha varnishkas or matzo-brie? Thank goodness I’m long past just pointing to many shades of beige items on the next table, when telling the server what I want.
Now with experience, I can proudly say (and pronounce) “Although I like matzo ball soup, I prefer kreplach soup”.
And no, I still haven’t found a Jewish deli in Tokyo. While there are many delicatessens which sell cured meats and European delicacies, sadly, there’s not a matzo ball to be found in Tokyo. Any investors out there? Give my husband a call.