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Food Porn Friday: 'Fast' Food

Do not look at me.  Do not lust after me.  Move along...

Do not look at me. Do not lust after me. Move along...

As a Jew, growing up in New Orleans meant taking certain liberties with certain Hebraic traditions. Consider the laws of kashrut: for the religious and hungry Jew, pigs are of course out, as are shrimp, oysters, crabs, crawfish, catfish (dirty bottom dwellers!), frogs, alligators, turtles...basically all the fantastic fauna indigenous to South Louisiana (although four species of locusts are perfectly fine, which gives me the opinion that the whole list in Leviticus 11 is vakakta anyhow). Venison is fine, so long as you happen to have a certified kosher butcher hanging around your deer stand out in the boonies to appropriately process your kill, and we know how often that happens. Also: no cheeseburgers. Essentially, obeying kosher law isn't impossible in a town like the Big Easy, but it's not easy, and for a person of appetites, it's a miserable thing to even think about.

Hence, I made some concessions with my heritage, and grew up as a "bacon-cheeseburger-eating Jew," which isn't all that uncommon in the U.S. Consider New Orleans chef Alon Shaya, who has great love and respect for Jewish culinary tradition and technique, but that doesn't stop him from curating an outstanding salumi program at Domenica. Some of my fellow Chosen People might belong to the Tribe of Kohen...I belong to the "Tribe of Cochon," it seems. That said, I enjoy often and shamelessly all the amazing cuisine available to us in New Orleans, but I also have a deep and abiding adoration for Jewish food, as well.

I think often about kashrut, my non-obedience policy toward it, and traditional Jewish dishes right around this time of year, during what we know as the "Days of Awe," the period of self-reflection and repentance that falls between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. Mostly, I think about them on Yom Kippur itself, when Jews are meant to fast for one day in order to facilitate contemplation. I think about the year I've had and the transgressions I've made, sure...but mostly, I think about food. Which is what happens when you don't eat.

As much as I try to steer my conscious mind toward proper prayer and mindfulness on that holiest day of the year, my unconscious (and starving) brain likes to torture me with vivid pictures of what I might be eating if I wasn't busy repenting: rich chicken stock with heavenly-soft matzoh balls, hot "everything" bagels with Nova lox and scallion cream cheese, my mother's long-braised brisket in a deep brown gravy, and, the best of all: hot pastrami on fresh rye bread with mustard and a side of pickles.

Oh, pastrami. In the words of George Costanza, "the most sensual of the smoked, cured meats." While there are certainly places in the Crescent City to find a nice pastrami sandwich (looking your way, Stein's), my first pastrami love was and always will be Katz's Deli on HOUSE-ton street, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The spicy, warm, salty, buttery soft meat is perfectly complimented by the European rye bread, the bite of mustard, vinegary pickles, and, to wash it all down, a Dr. Brown's Cel-ray soda. Yes, I know: celery-flavored soda pop should be an abomination, but in this circumstance, it is essential.

As I reflect this year, I'm fairly certain a pastrami sandwich, like the one shown above, will float through my mind, distract me from my prayer, and make me even hungrier than I was. Then again, I'm pretty sure the Jews wandering in the desert for 40 years did the same thing, too. It's not recorded in the Bible, but I can't help but believe that at least one of those wandering Isrealites piped up and said, "Listen, Moses...thanks for the manna and everything, we really appreciate it. You're the best. But you couldn't ask the big guy for some nice pastrami, could you? Or at least maybe some corned beef?"

Which brings me to another sacred Jewish tradition: Kvetching.

I'll do my best not to kvetch too much this year as I fast, but no promises. Not with pictures of pastrami in my head. And to all my Hebrew friends and family, I say: Shana tova, and an easy fast to you.


Native New Orleans food writer Scott Gold, author of The Shameless Carnivore, has written for Gourmet, The New Orleans Advocate, Gambit, ThrillistEdible Brooklyn, Tasting Table, The Faster Times, and other publications. His Food Porn Friday column for NolaVie offers a weekly mouth-watering photo essay designed to start culinary conversations in the Big Easy. Find him on Twitter @scottgold.