From Academic Kids

The word delicatessen designates a kind of food store. The word is of German origin, meaning "delicacies," and has different meanings in different countries. A North American delicatessen is often referred to, informally or affectionately, as a deli. In some regions of Australia, the same words are used to mean a general store or convenience store.


The North American delicatessen

The delicatessen as found in the cities of North America emphasizes take-out food. It is a boon to the contemporary city dweller with a distaste for chain fast food joints but without time for a sit-down or home-cooked meal. It is meant to be a one-stop in-and-out dining venue for later day meals.

Delicatessen vs. Grocery Store / Market

A delicatessen is something between a fast-food restaurant and a grocery store. It offers a much wider and fresher menu than chain fast food restaurants, never employing fry machines and always making sandwiches to order.

A grocery store or supermarket may make its own deli food, or even have a deli within it. Like a market, a delicatessen offers a selection of shelved food, although it is limited. Shelf food is often of the type that is not likely to be kept for more than a day. Produce, when present, is limited in quantity—and often freshness.

Delicatessens vary greatly in size, but are typically not as large as grocery stores. In areas with high rents for retail space, delicatessens are often quite small.

Product base

Every good delicatessen has a solid sandwich menu, all of which are made to order behind the counter. Most have a wide selection of various sandwiches, ranging from clubs to hero, hot to cold, burgers to wraps. The pastrami sandwich is sometimes considered the ultimate criterion of quality in a delicatessen.

Delicatessens often sell their meats by weight, as cold cuts, and prepare party trays.

In addition to made-to-order sandwiches, nearly all delicatessens offer made-to-order green salads. Equally essential is a selection of pre-made—often in house—pasta, potato, chicken, tuna, shrimp, and other variety of "wet" salads, displayed underneath the counter and bought by weight. Pre-cooked chicken, shrimp, or eggplant products, possibly fried or parmigiana style are found frequently, though they do not constitute the mainstay of a delicatessen.

In order to provide an opportunity for a complete meal, delicatessens also offer a wide variety of beverages, usually pre-packaged soft drinks, coffee, teas, milk, etc. Chips and similar products are available in some variety, though they rarely rival the selection of small package cookies and snack foods; some pre-packaged, others store-made and cellophane wrapped.

Alongside these primarily lunch and dinner products, a delicatessen might also offer a number of additional items geared toward the breakfast eater, including 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.

Most delicatessens are run by a regular staff; getting to know them will probably improve your service.

Urban affiliation

The North American delicatessen is skewed towards cities, particularly older cities that are less car-oriented, thus favoring walk-in traffic. The residents of New York City have a particularly close connection to their delis, and many delicatessens outside of New York call themselves "New York Delicatessen," to evoke the emotional appeal of the traditional New York City delicatessen.

Delikatessen in Germany

In Germany, "Delikatessen" (as it is spelled) has a rather different meaning. The traditional German Delikatessenläden ("stores for delicacies") sold mostly top-quality foodstuffs for cooking, not the take-out food characteristic of North American delicatessens. Such stores have mostly disappeared today, while the need for specialty stores has shifted to foreign specialties, like "Asia shops" and so on.

Origin of the word

Reference works state that the word delicatessen comes from German Delikatessen, and that this German word is the plural of Delikatesse, which in turn comes from French and means "delicate things (to eat)". The word delicate is recorded in Latin as delicatus, with the meaning "giving pleasure, delightful".

An alternative popular etymology supposes that the -essen part of the word is in fact the German word essen (= English: to eat, German: das Essen = English: the food). This etymology is considered unlikely because the German language uses endings on adjectives that modify nouns: "delicate food", in the nominative case, would be "delikates Essen", not "delikat Essen" but "das Essen ist delikat" (the food is delicious) is correct.

See also

For discussion of a movie entitled "Delicatessen", see Delicatessen (movie).


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