Fusing Cultures and Cuisine


We’re familiar with fusion cuisine. We like Tex-Mex, Thai-French and even Peruvian-Chinese. Peruvian-Chinese? Chifa, one of the hottest restaurants in Philadelphia, serves this hybrid of Latin and Asian food, a reminder that at the turn of the 20th century, Chinese railroad workers came to Peru and brought their noodles with them. The results: Duck tacos and stir-fried rice with chorizo.

When Jewish dishes are added to the mix, we get downright excited.

That’s why we took a field trip to Lansdowne, PA to check out The Avenue Delicatessen, a Jewish-Italian hybrid. The deli was opened by a young couple – Laura Frangiosa (the Italian one) and Joshua Skaroff (the Jewish one) – who fell in love, got married, and decided to draw on their Italian and Jewish upbringings to open a restaurant. They knew a merger of two longstanding deli traditions would be a successful one.

photoThe Avenue successfully, we think, combines a bunch of our favorite foods. We ordered the Jewish Wedding Soup, in which the mini meatballs common in Italian Wedding Soup cozied up to a giant matzah ball. In the deli case the knishes kept company with an Italian salami. Instead of home fries, potato latkes accompanied the breakfast eggs.

Interfaith friendships and marriages can bear interesting culinary fruit. One of our Italian friends has been married to a Jewish guy for 30-plus years. She learned to cook traditional Jewish foods from her mother-in-law, and when Hanukkah rolls around, she makes latkes with a side of meatballs and gravy.

On the lookout for more Jewish-Italian fusion, we read about Shlomo and Vito, best friends who grew up in Brooklyn in the 1950s and went on to open Shlomo & Vito’s New York Deli and Pizza Kitchen. That’s the good news. The bad news is that their eatery is in Tucson, AZ, a little too far away for a road trip. The deli serves sandwiches like the Babbling Brooklyner (tongue, turkey and chopped liver on rye) and Vito’s Baby (Italian sausage, provolone, sautéed peppers, onions and red sauce). Sounds delicious. Maybe they deliver.

We think Jewish and Italian is a perfect match. Forgive the broad stereotypes, but both of these ethnic groups include people who are loud, family-centered and love to sit and eat and shmooze for hours. Italians have their Christmas “Feast of the Seven Fishes” with calamari, baccala and other delicacies, while Jews have their Sunday feast of Four Fishes – nova, kippered salmon, whitefish and a little herring.

Jews are also known to love a good eggroll, and we fondly remember Ginsberg & Wong, a Cherry Hill, NJ, combo Chinese restaurant and Jewish deli that closed in 1994. Joyce’s husband counts a tongue sandwich and an egg roll among his favorite foods. Eating them at the same meal would be heavenly.

cheubrisketIndeed, we thought Chinese-Jewish fusion had died and gone to heaven until we chanced upon the Cheu Noodle Bar, a new Philadelphia restaurant from chef Ben Puchowitz. He’s making magic with all kinds of combinations, but the dish getting all the raves is the one featuring fatty brisket slices, a soft-boiled egg, and a giant matzah ball in a spicy Korean broth. For dessert he offers Bubbie’s banana bread.

This fall, we will have the ultimate fusion opportunity. The second night of Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving. That’s right – Hanukkah starts Wednesday night, Nov. 27. We are thinking of serving sweet potato latkes with our turkey and garnishing our pumpkin pie with chocolate gelt. On Chowhound, gourmands are already getting excited about this once in a lifetime convergence. They are going to top their potato latkes with cranberry sauce and fill sufganiyot (Israeli donuts) with pumpkin butter. It sounds delicious. We’re in.

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