Why I’m a cultural Jew

As a form of self-affirmation, I submit for your consideration the pastrami sandwich at Harold’s New York Deli in Edison, New Jersey:

And it’s great pastrami.  There’s also a pickle bar.  Go hungry.  Oh, and don’t forget the latkes.  The decision between sour cream and applesauce is one of the great Jewish dilemmas, which I always settle by having both.

Here’s an awesome video of Harold’s. Note the huge cakes, the gargantuan matzo balls, and the triple-decker ten pound sandwiches:


  1. locutus7
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 6:46 am | Permalink


  2. colevol
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    That’s the attitude!

    • Sven DiMilo
      Posted March 9, 2011 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      & altitude!

      • Posted March 9, 2011 at 10:39 am | Permalink

        …and airspeed…?


        • J
          Posted March 9, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

          African or European?

  3. Posted March 9, 2011 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    I could show you some nice cultural Christian fundamentalist jello salad, but the resulting jealousy would be too great to risk that.

  4. Posted March 9, 2011 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    I’m in! Where do I sign up? Is there a senior discount?

    • Posted March 9, 2011 at 7:04 am | Permalink

      All that great food, and they don’t even trim your tallywacker.

      Hold on — they do?!!!

  5. Lotharloo
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    Holyshit! That’s so wrong!

  6. Cliff Melick
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    I’ve eaten there. It’s totally obscene. Good though!

  7. Posted March 9, 2011 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    Holy cow, that’s a lot of beef!

    Um…how is one supposed to each such a construction?…?


    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted March 9, 2011 at 7:16 am | Permalink

      There’s extra bread at the pickle bar. I’m not sure, though, whether Harold’s serves kishkes (intestines).

      • Posted March 9, 2011 at 7:27 am | Permalink

        Ah — so it’s not so much intended as a sandwich as it is a plate of brisket served with bread. Makes sense.

        Speaking of kishke, that was the side dish at Thanksgiving dinner this past year at Mom & Dad’s…first time in ages they’ve made it. They actually started a couple days earlier by making the schmaltz and the matzohs, and had to go to a German (!) sausage shop in town to find the casings.



    • Posted March 9, 2011 at 7:29 am | Permalink

      I think you’d need at least 5 friends, or a developing country, to help you finish that “sandwich”.

  8. Dominic
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    “Hold the pickle,
    Hold the lettuce,
    Special orders
    Don’t upset us…”

  9. yesmyliege
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    Can it be true – that’s a $50.00 sandwich?

    • Posted March 9, 2011 at 7:27 am | Permalink

      The Harold’s website gives a price of $18.95 for a regular pastrami sandwich and $35.95 for the extra large.

      • Posted March 9, 2011 at 7:30 am | Permalink

        Which size is that in the photo?

        By my guess, it’d easily serve four to six non-teenaged-linbackers; any way you look at it, it makes it quite reasonably priced.


      • yesmyliege
        Posted March 9, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

        Ah, thanks – I was reading review comments – it’s the triple decker – as seen in the video, that’s a bit over $50.00 bucks. 10 lbs of meat! 😀

  10. TrineBM
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    That looks so good! I want one … like NOW! (Chances of finding anything just vaguely resembling that in Copenhagen are slim to none. Note to self: must travel!)

    • sasqwatch
      Posted March 9, 2011 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      The grass is always greener. Stuck in landlocked Colorado, I frequently pine for some pickled herring in the breakfast bar first thing in the morning.

      • TrineBM
        Posted March 10, 2011 at 5:04 am | Permalink

        Pickled herring is good – I admit that, but as you say: The grass is always greener. I think the only answer to that truthism is: travel to greener grass frequently.

  11. MosesZD
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    :sigh: It’s not a sandwich, it’s a joke. I get so tired of that gimmick-crap.

    So, even if I grant the pastrami might be good pastrami, the way the pallet works, that grotesque over-abundance is a fucking tragedy. You will, long before it’s done, lose positives for the food and it will end up as leftovers or an exercise in masochism as your poor pallet is overwhelmed.

    • NoAstronomer
      Posted March 9, 2011 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      Kinda with you thre. While I do like pastrami, this is plain silly. It’s just a pile of pastrami, garnished with a piece of rye bread. Are you supposed to throw the bread away?


      PS I lived in Edison for 11 years and I have eaten at Harolds. It is very good.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 9, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      LOL! You mean palate, but in this case, pallet is a wonderful Freudian slip. Might need a forklift, too.

  12. Posted March 9, 2011 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    No fair! Jerry has already explicitly forbidden me from becoming a cultural Jew just for the food. Then you dangle this in front of me?!? Damn you Coyne!!

    • Kevin
      Posted March 9, 2011 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      Careful: He might change his mind but then require you to pass the physical.

  13. Keith from NJ
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Harold’s in Edison is great. For the uninitiated, the menu states unequivocally that the sandwich feeds several people, and that extra bread is available on the pickle bar (and don’t forget the sour tomatoes and health salad). Yes, they have kishka. For the non-meat lover, the sable plate has lots of fish, bagels, cream cheese, and salad. Judging from the customers of many ethnic backgrounds that I see there, you don’t have to be Jewish to love the place.

    In my experience, the regular sized sandwich serves two and the large sandwich serves four, maybe with some to take home.

    Happy Purim, Jerry, and happy St. Patrick’s Day to my Irish friends.

  14. onkelbob
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    True story: I was at a Grateful Dead show (or rather run of shows) in Mountain View CA (Shoreline Amphitheater) in the early 1990’s. At the time the parking lot, pre and post show, was “Shakedown Street, a carnival of sorts, with people selling food, t-shirts, and other assorted items. I hear a distinctively Brooklyn accent crying out, “Knishes! Potato and Spinach Knishes!” Of course I had to ask where they were from (Williamsburg, of course) and whose recipe they used (again, of course, it was Grandma’s). Oy Vey, those knishes were good!
    Oh and after a show at the Hartford Civic Center, I was with my brother-in-law, and we met up with his friends. Our post show meal was grandma’s gefilte fish and horseradish. Oy vey, good stuff, not that crap from the jar. This ethnic Finn (paternal grandparents were Finn and Suomi) was in heaven. I love fish, be it pickled, smoked, salted, or raw. I attribute it to my grandmother, who also fed me coffee at 8 years old.

    • Keith from NJ
      Posted March 9, 2011 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      Harold’s has great knishes. They are huge, the size of a dinner plate.

  15. Posted March 9, 2011 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    And the maztoh ball soup is just as obscene. Two matzoh balls the size of grapefruits, but they are the lightest, fluffiest things I’ve ever eaten.

    Dang, now I’ve got to go to Harold’s this weekend.

  16. Phil65
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Go hungry.

    I should starve in a restaurant? What are you talking?

  17. daveau
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    I will allow that the best deli food is in NY/NJ. But where can one go in Chicago for something like this? Surely you don’t go entirely pastrami-free between visits?

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted March 9, 2011 at 8:38 am | Permalink

      Manny’s, on Roosevelt. But it’s thin gruel compared to Harold’s, Katz’s, or the Carnegie Deli. . .

      • daveau
        Posted March 9, 2011 at 8:55 am | Permalink

        Yeah, been to Manny’s. I was hoping for better. Thanks.

    • Posted March 9, 2011 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      Sadly these places are becoming harder to find in the Chicago area. Siegelman’s Deli is closing in Arlington Heights this weekend. They had good pastrami & corned beef sandwiches with all you can eat deli pickles. I’ll have to drive to Max & Benny’s in Northbrook or Chicago Bagel & Bialy Deli in Wheeling to get my fix now.

  18. sasqwatch
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Jesus Christ.

    um… er… holy Moses?

  19. Bryan Elliott
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Why I’m not: Delicious as all those things are, they could be made more delicious by the judicious use of bacon.

    • daveau
      Posted March 9, 2011 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      My sister, many years ago: “You mean they can’t put swiss cheese on their ham sandwiches? Oh, wait…”

    • Posted March 9, 2011 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      Woody Allen wrote a story in which a Jewish pilgrim travels untold distances to be able to meet the wisest, most learned, and most pious rabbi of his time. Ushered into the presence of the great sage, he asks, “Rebbe, why are we not allowed to eat bacon?”, to which the rabbi replied, “We’re not? Uh-oh.”

  20. Posted March 9, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    That about sums it up. My mother used to take those sandwiches apart and ziploc them for future use. She’d stuff them into her handbag when she was done fressing and take them home.

    • Posted March 9, 2011 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      My one grandmother always carried plastic sandwich bags with her in her large over sized purse. She was always ready when she attended Bar Mitzvahs, weddings, birthdays, conferences, funerals and so on. Good food should never be wasted.

      • yesmyliege
        Posted March 9, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

        My grandma would stuff her purse full of bread, pickles, plates, napkins,silverware, ashtrays and get a very satisfied look on her face. No kidding.

    • Kevin
      Posted March 10, 2011 at 6:15 am | Permalink

      My grandmother come over from Glasgow Scotland at age 14.
      Dinner rolls not eaten were definitely wrapped and taken. And anything else not nailed down.

  21. JBlilie
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Holy crap, that’s a huge sandwich! Yum yum eatem up!

  22. stvs
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Google is not your friend.

    This serving of mouthwatering ribs (Fig. 6) is much, much larger than a ka-zayit (“olive’s volume”) of pork, so you deserve a good flogging as demanded by the Torah:

    eating a ka-zayit [olive’s volume] of pork carries the punishment of flogging

    Will you be blogging your flogging? Selling contraband like this will still draw actual attacks in Israel.

  23. Posted March 9, 2011 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Don’t think you know meat ’til you’ve seen this –

    • bensix
      Posted March 9, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      (Although if you’ve seen it you won’t want to know meat.)

    • EvolutionSWAT
      Posted March 12, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      Wow, that is so manly and so disgusting at the same time.

  24. Bernard J. Ortcutt
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    It’s sad how gluttony is celebrated in our society. Can you imagine France having a show celebrating binge eating?

    P.S., I enjoy good pastrami as much as any person, but that amount of meat is just dumb.

    • Posted March 9, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      I’d rather think of that sandwich as akin to a pizza. You’d order one for the whole table, in which case it not only makes sense, but is a darned good idea.

      That ten-pound sandwich would be perfect for a party.



  25. Posted March 9, 2011 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    A ten pound sandwich is equivalent to forty quarter-pound-sized servings!

    With just three of them, you could feed yourself nothing but brisket for the proverbial forty days and forty nights!


    • Posted March 10, 2011 at 2:59 am | Permalink

      Now you know Moses’ and Jesus’ “fasting” secret: deli takeaway.

  26. Posted March 9, 2011 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Knowing me, I would probably have tried eating the damn thing like a normal sandwich had I not read the comments in this thread. *cue Carrie*

  27. salon_1928
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    I used to love the pastrami from United Kosher in Ottawa when I was a kid but they didn’t look like that! That’s even with factoring in the fact that you always seem to remember things being bigger when you were a kid…

  28. Posted March 9, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Traitor. Sneaking off to Jersey for that sandwich…the occasionally rude and funny waiters at the Carnegie(where the pastrami towers just as high, I’ll have you know) have informed me that it’ll be very difficult for me to get a table at the Carnegie, now that they know a good friend of mine went to Jersey for pastrami.

  29. Chris Slaby
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    15 minutes from my childhood home! Yum!

  30. Posted March 9, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Didn’t I see this on This is Why You’re Fat.com?

  31. Stephen Gaffney
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    I’ve enjoyed all the Jewish food posts here, and have made special trips to all the NYC locations mentioned. However I’m now in a bit of a quandary, having read Johann Hari’s article on Halal&Kosher food in the UK.(link below) Do kosher butchers in the USA also avoid numbing/stunning their animals? And would popular places like Katz’s and Harold’s use kosher pastrami? The ~6minute drowning-while-conscious process Hari describes is very grisly, so I hope there’s something I’m missing.


  32. jt512
    Posted March 10, 2011 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    You’re a cultural Jew because you want to have a heart attack?

  33. Circe
    Posted March 10, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    To the vegetarians feeling left out for lack of giant vegetarian dishes: LOOK NO FURTHER. The Mighty Paper Dosa is your friend. Here is a representative sample I found at a travel blog:

    While you show it off, you can also brag about how the Mighty Paper Dosa (or almost any other vegetarian dish) is more environment-friendly than almost any thing which contains red meat.

  34. truthspeaker
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    My question is, does being a cultural Jew mean you choose not to eat delectable abominations like scallops wrapped in bacon?

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] colonial era Britain, has spoken publicly of his fondness for the CofE and the King James Bible. Jerry Coyne identifies as a cultural Jew. And Jim Al-Khalili, President of the BHA, has written a whole book […]

%d bloggers like this: