Delicatessen is a term meaning "delicacies," or "fine foods." In English, "delicatessen" originally meant only specially prepared food. In time, the delicatessen store where this food was sold came to be called a delicatessen, often abbreviated to deli.
Delicatessen is a German loanword that first appeared in English in 1889. It is the plural form of Delikatesse. In German, it was originally a French loanword, délicatesse, meaning "delicious things (to eat)." The root word is the Latin adjective delicatus, meaning "giving pleasure, delightful, pleasing."
The modern German version is spelled Delikatessen, which may have helped support the alternative popular etymology that the -essen part of the word 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; nominative case) and Essen.
In Europe, delicatessen has a different meaning than in the United States, as it designates top-quality (and top-price) foodstuffs, stores and counters. In German-speaking countries a common synonym is Feinkost, meaning fine food, and the shops that sell them are called Feinkostläden ("stores for delicacies"). Department stores often have a Delikatessenabteilung ("delicacies department").
While small US-style delicatessens may also be found in Europe, they still tend towards the luxury market. In Russia, the shops (and supermarket sections) that offer something close to US-style delis are called kulinariya and mostly offer various salads and main courses. The delicacy meats and cheeses, both cold-cut and sliced, are always sold in separate sections. The practice of making sandwiches to order is absent in both, and is limited to fast-food stores like the Subway franchise. The famous Eliseevsky food store in the centre of Moscow, on the other hand, resembles a delicatessen store in the European sense, complete with luscious fin de siècle decor. This historic establishment was preserved by the Soviets from the Tsarist era and was meant to serve as an exhibition piece of the Russian food industry, carrying the most difficult-to-obtain delicacies.
Delicatessens may also provide specialist food from other countries and cultures which is not readily available in local food stores.
In Canada, both uses of the term delicatessen are applied. 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 strictly take-out, or mixed take-out and sit-down restaurants.
In most of Australia, delicatessen retains the standard European meaning. Large grocery supermarket chains often incorporate a specific deli department, and there is an abundance of stand-alone independent delicatessens across all parts of the country. Both formats offer a range of cured meats, sausage, pickled vegetables, dips, breads and olives.
The term deli is also used to denote a small convenience store or milk bar in the states of Western Australia and South Australia and some such businesses use deli in their business name. Traditional delicatessens exist in these regions; the term continental delicatessen is sometimes used to specify the European version.
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In the United States, a delicatessen store, or deli, is a type of business that could be described as a synthesis of a grocery store and a restaurant. The delicatessen store offers a wider and fresher menu than those found at chain fast food restaurants, rarely employing fry machines (except for chicken), and routinely preparing sandwiches to order. They may also serve hot foods kept on a steam table, like a cafeteria. They sell cold cuts by weight and prepare party trays. Delicatessen stores vary greatly in size but are typically not as large as grocery stores. In areas with high rents for retail space, delicatessen stores are often quite small.
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 variety of "wet" salads, displayed underneath the counter and bought by weight or on a sandwich. Precooked chicken (usually in roasted and fried varieties), shrimp, cheese, or eggplant dishes, (possibly fried or parmigiana style) are found frequently. Delis can be either strictly take-out, a sit-down restaurant, or mixture of both.
In order to provide an opportunity for a complete meal, delicatessens also offer a wide variety of beverages, usually pre-packaged soft drinks, coffee, tea, milk, etc. Potato chips and similar products are available in some variety – some pre-packaged, others store-made and cellophane wrapped.
Alongside these primarily brunch and dinner products, a delicatessen might also offer a number of additional items geared toward breakfast, including pancakes, bacon, sausage, waffles, omelets and baked goods (breakfast pastries, bagels, toast), yogurt, and warm egg "breakfast sandwiches." Newspapers and small food items such as candy and mints are also usually available for purchase.
Delicatessen menus vary by region and ethnic diversity of the area. While urban delis rely on ethnic meats (such as pastrami, corned beef and salami), supermarket delis usually rely more on meats that mirror the packaged meats for sale in the store (primarily ham, turkey, and American-style bologna). One of the best examples of regional variation is in the southeast, where ham, not sold in Jewish delis, is often the most common meat sold.
Delicatessens can come from a variety of cultural traditions. In the United States, many are Jewish delicatessens, both kosher and "kosher style." As a result of this, Americans refer to those that specialize in Italian and German cuisine as "European delicatessens." In Seattle, the term "deli" is often used to indicate take-out restaurants mainly serving Vietnamese bánh mì sandwiches, particularly in Little Saigon and the University District.
The American equivalents of European style delicatessens are known as gourmet food stores.
The North American delicatessen distribution is skewed towards cities, particularly older cities that are less car-oriented, thus favoring walk-in traffic. New York is known for its delis, and many delicatessens outside of New York call themselves "New York-style delis" to evoke images of the traditional New York City delicatessen.
List of notable delicatessens
New York City
- 2nd Avenue Deli — Manhattan's East Village, now located 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 Deli — Lower East Side of Manhattan
- Zabar's — Upper West Side of Manhattan
- Mile End — in Brooklyn, NY, "committed to breathing new life into old-world traditions"
- Kenny & Zuke's — Portland, Oregon, the first artisan Jewish deli in North America making all of its foods from scratch.
- Bens De Luxe Delicatessen & Restaurant in Montreal (closed in 2006)
- Schwartz's — a landmark smoked meat restaurant in Montreal
- Caplansky's Delicatessen —Toronto's best house-cured, hand-sliced smoked meat.
- Shopsy's —Toronto's classic place for in house smoked, and roast meat since 1921
- Dallmayr — a store for delicacies in Munich
- Fortnum & Mason — Piccadilly, London
- Bloom's restaurant — a famous 100-year-old kosher Jewish deli with several locations in London (closed)
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-  Archived December 2, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
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- Media related to Delicatessens at Wikimedia Commons