Delicatessen is a beautiful word. According to the OED, it is first defined as “delicacies or relishes for the table,” from the German word Delikatessen, on loan from the French word délicatesse. Its second, and perhaps more common definition, is “a delicatessen shop.” While this is often shortened to the more familiar and friendly “deli,” I really love the full word with all of its delicate sounds and flavors. Saying it is like eating an amuse-bouche, tickling the palate and heightening one’s taste for what’s to come. The full word evokes the wonder and feeling of one of its earliest recorded descriptions, as “a house which abounds in foreign dainties of all sorts.”
For those of you who have been to Philadelphia’s Famous 4th Street Delicatessen, “dainty” is not quite the first word that comes to mind. Perhaps you think “bold,” “extreme,” or as a friend puts it, “meat, huge, and fantastic.” This is as much a matter of the delicacies’ size (towering sandwiches, tureens of soup, and platters of cake) as it is of their flavor (glistening pastrami, smoked fish, invigoratingly vinegared salads, full-bodied sweet and sour cabbage soup), all delivered in a bright white-and-black tiled storefront. The sandwiches may be rather expensive (especially if you order the “zaftig” size), but they will stuff two people with enough leftovers for another day or two, depending on whether you like your corned beef on rye, in eggs, or in a stuffed baked potato.