The Origin of Delis
The past decade has seen the rise in popularity of the deli department within the South African supermarket store. But the delicatessen concept itself dates back to the 17th Century, and has since evolved into what we now know it to be. Retail Chef looks at some facts about the origin of delis.
More so than any other country in Europe, the history of deli food and the delicatessen store concept has its origins in Germany. Dallmayr in Munich is a delicatessen that dates back to the 17th Century and is still open today, functioning as a deli, restaurant and coffee shop. It was the first store to import bananas, mangoes, and plums to the German population all the way from countries such as the Canary Islands and China.
Literally meaning “delicacies” or “fine foods”, the term delicatessen in English originally only referred to specially prepared food. In time, the store where this food was sold came to be called a delicatessen, and the new meaning for the word was eventually shortened to deli.
German emigration to America took off in the 18th century, and New York was a particularly popular place for Germans to settle. The deli concept was most probably brought across during this time. Major Jewish immigration to New York began in the 1880s with the increase on anti-Semitism in Europe. This further revolutionized the deli and perhaps made it more like we know it to be today. They served hot foods in a cafeteria style, where one picks up their tray, orders and pays at the register.
Between 1900 and 1910, over two million Italians came to New York City from Europe. Italian and German delis were similar in that they generally charged meat and cheeses by weight rather than by predetermined and precosted portions.
Italian delis specialized in meats, cheeses, and pastas. The delicacies they provided included mozzarella, parmesan, gorgonzola, prosciutto, and salami. They also sold sweets, like the traditional panettone cake and dried figs, as well as traditional Italian cooking spices and garnishes such as basil, oregano and olive oil.
As the concept developed, larger delicatessen stores sold cold cuts and meats, but the smaller, more upmarket delis stocked luxury food goods including confectionery, fine spirits, wines, exclusive cheeses, high quality coffee beans, fruit, spices, herbs, specialty breads, tea and handmade chocolate. This is how we know standalone delis to be today. We are also familiar with stores that sell produce from other countries and cultures which are not readily available in local food stores.
More recently, upmarket supermarkets may provide their own “deli” food, or even operate a fully-functional delicatessen on the shop floor. Delis today often remain specialized to the culture they originate from, but more varieties seem to exist now than ever before.
Did You Know?
In 1903, Savino Di Palo came to America and started a ‘latteria’, a dairy store, in the Little Italy neighbourhood of New York. The store exclusively sold cheeses, until later generations made it a full deli with meats and other items for selections.
Famous Delis from Around the World:
• 2nd Avenue Deli – New York, USA (www.2ndavedeli.com)
• Arch House Deli – Bristol, UK (www.archhousedeli.com)
• Barney Greengrass – New York, USA (www.barneygreengrass.com)
• Carnegie Deli – New York, USA (www.carnegiedeli.com)
• Dallmayr – Munich, Germany (www.dallmayr.com)
• Fauchon – Paris, France (www.fauchon.com)
• Fortnum & Mason – Piccadilly, London, UK (www.fortnumandmason.com)
• Harrods – Knightsbridge, London, UK (www.harrods.com)
• Hello Deli – New York, USA (www. hello-deli.com)
• Jerry’s Famous Deli – Los Angeles, California, USA (www.jerrysfamousdeli.com)
• Katz’s Deli – New York, USA (www. katzsdelicatessen.com)
• Nate ‘n Al Delicatessen – Beverly Hills, California, USA (www.natenal.com)