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Monday, September 21, 2020

Who Invented the Deli? The Answer May Surprise You!


                                              Deli and Italy are for many synonymous

Italy is home of pasta, vino, salami, mozzarella, pesto, focaccia, prosciutto, parmigiano-reggiano, pepperoncini, panini, tiramisu…. and the deli, which sells all of these items.  The Italian deli is one of the greatest sensory shows on our food earth.  Pungent cheese mixes with the intoxicating smells of gigantic hanging hams just waiting to be sliced.  Lasagna fresh-from-the-oven causes a Pavlovian reaction.   Aisles are filled with a Noah’s ark full of olives, olive oils, capers, balsamic vinegars, and tins of San Marzano tomatoes.  And, let’s not forget the aroma of garlic---no vampire would get within 50 meters of an Italian deli.

  Labor-intensive eggplant parmigiana is  a perfect solution for Italians who don't want the hassle

Every city in Italy is replete with delis.  Their reputations are often based on their homemade ingredients which fill their display cases.  With both parents often working in Italy, the deli has become the Italian healthy version of fast food:  eggplant parm is a favorite item that can quickly be reheated.  Always popular meatballs, made from closely guarded deli recipes been passed down for generations, can become a speedy dinner by simply boiling water for pasta.   Many delis are also known for their seafood salad---calamari, shrimp and mussels dressed with olive oil and lemon (add a loaf of bread, and a bottle of wine and this makes a perfect dinner for time-bankrupt Italian households).

Eataly is a deli on steroids


There are many fabulous deli’s in Italy.   Eataly in Turin (the brand’s original location) is totally awesome.  This is a food emporium extraordinaire----a deli combined with a butcher shop, bread seller, seafood market, pastry shop, wine store, pizza parlor, foodie’s gift store, general grocery store, vegetable market, and a culinary bookstore. 

                               Peck has a nearly endless supply of gastronomic sweets

In my opinion, however, the ultimate deli in all of Italy is Peck in Milan.  Located not far from the city’s famous cathedral, Peck has always been my favorite for takeout. Many times over the years I have taken the train from nearby Lake Como to pick up ingredients for a picnic dinner on the terrace of my hotel in Bellagio.   Peck’s seafood salad with lobster and scallops is off the Richter scale.  If I’m feeling really decadent I buy a small slice of foie gras with truffles.  But, Peck’s also sells pieces of magnifico rotisserie chicken which I often pair with their pepperonata, a stewed mélange of multi-colored peppers with hints of anchovy, garlic, olive oil and a drizzle of good balsamic.

All of this time I have assumed that deli was an Italian word.  Wrong.   Deli is from the word “delikatessen,” a German word.  In 1700 the word was first used by a German food company that sold bananas, mangoes and plums it had imported from exotic places like the Canary Islands and China.  The company, Dallymar, is still in business today and remains the largest business of its type in Europe.


                      Like many things in Italy, it's all about the heart & soul of the owners

Although the word deli is not Italian, I think it sounds Italian.   That made me think of the Italian word “delicato,” which stems from a Latin word meaning “giving pleasure, delightful.”    So in my mind I’m going to keep my notion of deli as Italian.  While the Italians may not have invented the concept of a store selling a cornucopia of exotic foods, to me the delis of Italy give great pleasure and are a culinary delight.



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