Finding a good white fish salad sandwich, a subliminally-creamy blintz, or a cured meat sandwich on real rye bread isn’t a scavenger hunt you’d think to embark upon here in Berkeley, California. Sure, we know there’s good food here, but a Jewish deli?
East coast arrivals to the Bay Area will probably have an unconscious half-life of how long they can grub around town before they need to point their compasses toward a deli. Well, I know that’s what happened to me. And within a month of moving to this beautiful area I had discovered Saul’s.
My first trip wasn’t what you might call a smash hit. I was there with two others who originated east of here, both of whom, like me, were raised by Jewish mothers. One swore that sinking matzoh balls were far superior to the floating variety, the other did a double take when the pastrami sandwich arrived, expecting a towering Katz-style monstrosity. Even though I saw the Acme bread bags on the counter I was remiss without my pumpernickle rye – the particular item that had sent me on this deli search to begin with.
We were all munching away, comparing our Saul’s spread to the deli’s back home, or to our mother’s and grandmother’s tables. Traditions were discussed, specific differences surfaced, and nostalgia kicked in, pulling us out of the present meal. We practically licked the plates clean, but we had so many comments about the way everything was served, how it was made, and most of all, how it was or was not different from what we were used to. We were defining what the Jewish foodway was to us.
After my first visit to Saul’s I thought of myself in a new light – as a picky eater. (I try to be the best omnivore I can be!) I hadn’t previously taken this kind of magnifying glass look at the culinary traditions of some of my ancestors, and I certainly hadn’t realized how specific I was about how things “should” be. I was the person who always wanted to try new things – why then would I be so closed-minded about food that was so close to my heart?