Turning the Key to the Great Houses of Lox

Once Popular, 'Appetizing' Shops Have Almost Disappeared

New York Staple: Russ & Daughters has been a constant on the Lower East Side for more than 100 years. Here, Anne (Russ) Federman and Herb Federman stand proudly behind their smoked fish counter around 1970.
Courtesy of Russ and Daughters
New York Staple: Russ & Daughters has been a constant on the Lower East Side for more than 100 years. Here, Anne (Russ) Federman and Herb Federman stand proudly behind their smoked fish counter around 1970.

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

Published February 20, 2013, issue of February 22, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Immigrant Jews from Eastern Europe first encountered lox and kindred varieties of smoked salmon — among them, Eastern smoked salmon and Scottish smoked salmon — in this country, not back home. Near as I can tell, there were no appetizing stores in the Old World. On the contrary. The appetizing store, categorically declared one Adam Gostony, a student of the eating habits of New Yorkers, as he assembled material in the late 1930s for a Works Progress Administration-sponsored project called “Feeding the City,” was an “outgrowth of New York City’s special trading inventions and creations.” The eagle-eyed and hungry reporter went on to add that “although people of every nationality patronize the retail appetizing stores, the Jewish people are by far the greatest customers. This may be attributed to their peculiar love for highly seasoned foods.”

And yet, for all its popularity, the products of the appetizing store have not inspired the encomia more commonly found among devotees of the delicatessen. When, in 1946, Commentary published an article by Ruth Glazer about the deli, it received a flood of enthusiastic, full-throttled responses. “No article yet printed in Commentary has elicited as many comments, oral and written” as Glazer’s piece, the magazine’s editor noted. The deli “seems to strike a responsive chord in the — shall we say — hearts of so many.”

Affinity for delicatessen has resurfaced among a contemporary generation of young food mavens who cure their own pastrami and brine their own pickles. The appetizing store has had no such luck — with one exception: Shelsky’s Smoked Fish, in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Cobble Hill. “Appetizing [is] such a huge part of New York’s fabric, yet there was nowhere in Brooklyn to get it besides Fairway,” explains the shop’s 30-something proprietor, Peter Shelsky, a classically trained chef, of his decision to “marry tradition to the new Brooklyn lifestyle.” Besides, Shelsky is quick to add, he was tired of “trekking to Russ & Daughters in Manhattan.”

Places like Shelsky’s and Russ & Daughters are no longer the rule. Most fans of this culinary “tradition” are most likely to find its products on the supermarket shelf or the restaurant menu than in a small Jewish specialty shop. Smoked salmon is now everywhere, sourced and artisanal and all dressed up in a snazzy vacuum pack. The appeal of this smoked fish has become so widespread, in fact, that Ron Rosenbaum recently took to the pages of The New Republic to rue what he calls its “ethnic deracination” and its corresponding “gentrification.” By his lights, smoked salmon has assumed a brand-new identity — more to the manor born, so to speak, than true to its humble immigrant roots.

Even so, those consumers who prefer to be reminded of the original context from which bagels and lox first emerged can always venture forth to East Houston Street, where, as the Russ & Daughters book amply records, standing in line at the fish counter continues to be a singular experience.

Jenna Weissman Joselit, the Charles E. Smith Professor of Judaic Studies & Professor of History at The George Washington University as well as the director of its Program in Judaic Studies, is also a longtime columnist for the Forward.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.