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A delicatessen is a store which sells "delicacies," or fine foods. In English, "delicatessen" originally meant specially-prepared food. In time the "delicatessen store" came to be called a "delicatessen", often abbreviated "deli".
Delicatessen is a German loanword which first appeared in English in 1889 and is the plural of Delikatesse. In German it was originally a French loanword, délicatesse, meaning "delicious things (to eat)". Its root word is the Latin adjective delicatus, meaning "giving pleasure, delightful, pleasing".
The modern German version is spelled Delikatessen, which may have supported the popular etymology that the -essen suffix derives from the German verb essen (English: to eat) or the noun das Essen (English: the food). This would imply that the word is a compound of the German words delikat (English: delicate) and essen.
In Europe "delicatessen" means high-quality, expensive foods and stores. In German-speaking countries a common synonym is Feinkost (fine food), and shops which sell it are called Feinkostläden (delicacy stores). Department stores often have a Delikatessenabteilung (delicacy department). European delicatessens include Fauchon in Paris, Dallmayr in Munich, Harrods and Fortnum & Mason in London, and Peck in Milan.
Although US-style delicatessens are also found in Europe, they appeal to the luxury market. In Russia, shops and supermarket sections approximating US-style delis are called kulinariya and offer salads and main courses. Delicate meats and cheeses, cold-cut and sliced hot, are sold in a separate section and sandwiches made to order are limited to fast-food franchises such as Subway. The Eliseevsky food store in central Moscow, with its fin de siècle decor, is similar to a European delicatessen. From the Tsarist era, it was preserved by the Soviets as an outlet for difficult-to-obtain Russian delicacies. Delicatessens may also provide foods from other countries and cultures which is not readily available in local food stores.
In Canada, both meanings of "delicatessen" are used. Immigrants from Europe often use the term in a manner consistent with its original German meaning but, as in the United States, delis can be either take-out or mixed take-out and sit-down restaurants.
In most of Australia, "delicatessen" retains its European meaning. Large supermarket chains often have a deli department, and independent delicatessens exist throughout the country. Both types of deli offer a variety of cured meats, sausages, pickled vegetables, dips, breads and olives.
"Deli" also denotes a small convenience store or milk bar in Western and South Australia, and some businesses use "deli" as part of their business name. Traditional delicatessens also exist in these states, with "continental delicatessen" sometimes used to indicate the European version.
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In the United States, a delicatessen (or deli) is often a combined grocery store and restaurant. Delis offer a broader, fresher menu than fast-food chains, rarely employing fryers (except for chicken) and routinely preparing sandwiches to order. They may also serve hot foods from a steam table, similar to a cafeteria. American delis sell cold cuts by weight and prepare party trays. Although delicatessens vary in size, they are typically smaller than grocery stores.
In addition to made-to-order sandwiches, many U.S. delicatessens offer made-to-order green salads. Equally common is a selection of prepared pasta, potato, chicken, tuna, shrimp or other salads, displayed under the counter and sold by weight. Precooked chicken (usually roasted or fried), shrimp, cheese or eggplant dishes (fried or parmigiana style) are also sold. Delis may be either strictly take-out, a sit-down restaurant or both.
Delicatessens offer a variety of beverages, such as pre-packaged soft drinks, coffee, tea and milk. Potato chips and similar products, newspapers and small items such as candy and mints are also usually available.
Menus vary according to regional ethnic diversity. Although urban delis rely on ethnic meats (such as pastrami, corned beef and salami), supermarket delis rely on meats similar to their packaged meats (primarily ham, turkey and American bologna).
Delicatessens have a number of cultural traditions. In the United States many are Jewish, both kosher and "kosher style". The American equivalent of a European delicatessen is known as a gourmet food store. North American delicatessen distribution is primarily older, walkable cities.
New York City
- Second Avenue Deli – East Village, Manhattan (now on Third Avenue)
- Carnegie Deli – Midtown Manhattan, near Carnegie Hall
- Barney Greengrass – Upper West Side of Manhattan; the number-one delicatessen in Zagat for over 10 years
- Katz's Delicatessen – Lower East Side of Manhattan
- Zabar's – Upper West Side of Manhattan
- Mile End – Brooklyn
- Zingerman's Delicatessen – Ann Arbor, Michigan
- Benji's Delicatessen – Shorewood, Wisconsin
- Canter's – Fairfax district of Los Angeles
- Nate 'n Al of Beverly Hills
- Kenny & Zuke's Delicatessen – Portland, Oregon
- D.Z. Akin's Delicatessen – San Diego, California
- Bens De Luxe Delicatessen & Restaurant – Montreal (closed 2006)
- Schwartz's – Montreal
- Caplansky's Delicatessen – Toronto
- Shopsy's – Toronto
- Dallmayr – Munich
- "Definition of delicatessen - Merriam-Webster's Student Dictionary". Wordcentral.com. 2012-09-20. Retrieved 2015-10-07.
- "Words in English: Loanwords". Ruf.rice.edu. 2015-09-09. Retrieved 2015-10-07.
- "Online Etymology Dictionary". Etymonline.com. Retrieved 2015-10-07.
-  Archived December 2, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
- "Delicatessens in Knightsbridge, Central London | Reviews - Yell". Trustedplaces.com. Retrieved 2015-10-07.
- Merwin, Ted. Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli (New York University Press, 2015.) xviii, 245 pp.
- Media related to Delicatessens at Wikimedia Commons