New York’s Muslim Jewish Deli

David's Brisket House pastrami

David’s Brisket House, some of the best pastrami in Brooklyn

Since they were first developed in the latter half of the 19th century, New York City’s Jewish delis have become just as New York as pizza, bagels and street hot dogs.  In Manhattan, names such as Katz’s, 2nd Avenue Deli and Carnegie Deli have become New York institutions.  Yet across the East River, in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, lies one of the most intriguing of New York City’s Jewish delis: David’s Brisket House.  It’s a fairly nondescript little spot, with nothing but a few tables and chairs, yet what makes it unique is that it’s New York City’s only Jewish deli run by Muslims.

Originally founded by Jewish immigrants from Yemen and Russia in the earlier half of the 20th century, David’s became a Muslim-owned institution after it was passed down to a Yemeni Muslim partner in the 1980s.  The new owner inherited the nickname “David”, and turned the small deli into a family business, which they turned into a completely unique New York City business: a Jewish deli, run by Muslims.  With some of the best pastrami in Brooklyn and some of the most tender brisket to be found in New York City, the owners of David’s Brisket House have been able to turn their deli into a rip-roaring success, and even opened a second location in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bay Ridge.

Although much of the food served at Jewish delis can be traced to Kosher foods prepared in Eastern Europe, the Jewish deli itself has its origins in New York City.  In the 1840s and 1850s, German immigrants in New York began opening “delicatessens”, which served traditional German dishes.  The delicatessens founded by Catholic and Protestant immigrants tended to feature plenty of pork on their menus, while those founded by German Jews were Kosher.  When Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe arrived in New York City in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they gravitated to these Kosher delicatessens, adding their own foods such as pastrami and kreplach in the process.  And thus a unique New York tradition was born.

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