NYC deli favourites, decoded

New York deli speak can be bewildering for the uninitiated, so to make sure you know your kugel from your pastrami, here’s a quick cheat sheet to ordering with confidence. By Leigh-Ann Pow


Katz’s Delicatessen‘s signature creation involves beef brisket being cured in salt, then rubbed in pepper and spices and smoked, then finally boiled to perfection (it is also steamed before being served); the end result comes sliced thin and stacked high on a sandwich, most famously made from rye bread.


Derived from the Yiddish word for salmon (laks), it’s a brined fillet of salmon (traditionally from the belly of the fish where it’s fattier and more succulent) most commonly served on a bagel with a schmear of cream cheese.

Matzo ball soup

Dumplings made from unleavened flatbread meal mixed with egg, water and chicken fat (known in Yiddish as schmaltz) and served in a chicken broth.
Traditionally served during Passover, it is now a NY deli staple.


Originating in Easter Europe; a snack size pie traditionally filled with mashed potato, ground meat, sauerkraut, onions or cheese.


A tart beetroot soup of Eastern European origins; the name is derived from an East Slavic word.


A traditional Ashkenazi Jewish dished of baked pudding or casserole usually made with egg noodles or potato.


Shallow fried pancakes made from shredded potato and served with savoury (cream cheese) or sweet (apple sauce) toppings.

Gefilte fish

Yiddish for stuffed fish, it is a mix of ground fish, egg, spices, onions; usually served topped with a slice of carrot and accompanied by condiments like red horseradish.


A dense bread swirled with chocolate or cinnamon and often topped with nuggets of cinnamon-sugar streusel (a crumble made from flour, butter and sugar).