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Pastrami and Egg Creams: A Tasty History of the Lower East Side

The pastrami sandwich might just be the quintessential New York dish. Together with the likes of salmon bagels, latkes, and potato knishes — washed down with a fizzy, refreshing egg cream — this legendary deli-style food emerged from the Lower East Side’s Eastern European immigrant population. Here’s how it happened — along with a look at where to get the best deli food near your One Manhattan Square condo.

The Rise of the New York Deli

The New York deli, or delicatessen, as the institution was originally known, stemmed from the influx of German immigrants in the mid-1800s. By 1855, New York (principally “Little Germany,” situated in today’s Lower East Side) had the third-largest German population of any city in the world, behind only Berlin and Vienna. From this community came exciting new foods: pretzels, Hamburg steaks, and “pyramids of sausages of every known size and shape.” Yet the delis known and loved in NYC today really took shape after pogrom-fleeing Jews arrived en masse from Eastern Europe, bringing with them chopped liver, grilled cheese, schnitzel, and the like. Though the food was delicious, the fare was only half the reason to visit delis; they were a safe social space for immigrants to congregate and discuss their experiences in this burgeoning American metropolis.

New York’s First Jewish Deli

Katz’s Delicatessen, on 205 East Houston Street, is credited as the city’s first Jewish deli. Opened originally as “Iceland Brothers” on the Lower East Side in 1888, Katz’s became a haven of cured-meat sandwiches and community spirit. On Fridays, half the neighborhood flocked to Katz’s to dive into plates of franks and beans. During World War II, the owners encouraged customers to “Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army.” Katz’s fame has since gone global — helped, no doubt, by that scene from “When Harry Met Sally” — and it’s frequented by scores of tourists who order right alongside Lower East Side locals. But it’s far from the only place to get a good deli sandwich.

The Best Delis Near One Manhattan Square

Many of the Lower East Side’s best delis are a walk of 20 minutes or less from Extell Development’s One Manhattan Square condos. Russ & Daughters has been doing deli right for over a century. On its menu of “noshes” is chopped liver, matzo ball soup, pickled herring, and heaps of exquisite caviar. The egg creams (which, famously, contain no egg or cream) are excellent, too. At the wonderfully traditional Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery, enjoy the finest knishes in town, accompanied by a cooling lime rickey. For vegan residents of One Manhattan Square, Orchard Grocer offers a 21st century take on the deli, with seitan mortadella and carrot lox bagels. Whichever of these wonderful shops you find yourself in next, remember this: You’re eating in the footsteps of those immigrants who made NYC what it is today.