The Importance Of Appetizing Shops To American Jewish Culture

While many might know what it means for a food to be appetizing, few folks outside of New York City probably know what an appetizing shop is. Appetizing shops, or "appys" as they're sometimes referred to, are the complement to the traditional Jewish deli. According to My Jewish Learning, kosher laws state that it is forbidden to sell meat and dairy in the same establishment. So while the delis sell pastrami and brisket, appetizing shops offer dairy items such as cream cheese, smoked fish, and homemade salads. The world-famous appetizing shop, Russ & Daughters, defines the products sold at appys as those that would pair well with bagels.

These shops were first introduced to the United States in the late 1800s when European Jewish immigrants arrived en masse to the United States (via Untapped New York). The stores were likely given the name appetizing shops because the food sold there was often served as appetizers. By the 1930s the shops blossomed along with the city's Jewish population. Untapped New York notes that the Jewish population of New York City flourished to being a third of its population during that time. As a result, there were more than 500 appys spread across all five boroughs in the city.

Over time, more New York City grocers started to stock the same products sold by appetizing shops. Appys' unique role in these communities started to fade, and many of the shops shuttered.

Appys play a vital role during Yom Kippur

One of the most important contributions of appetizing shops is the role that they play in the observance of Yom Kippur, considered by the Jewish faith to be the most solemn day of the year (via My Jewish Learning). Jewish people fast the entire day of Yom Kippur, and, during that time, they are prohibited from cooking or working. This means that there's no room for meal prep before breaking their fast. This is the role that the items sold by appetizing shops play. When the time to break the fast arrives, worshippers often enjoy smoked salmon, bagels, salads, and cream cheese as part of the feast. All of the foods and ingredients are able to be purchased well ahead of time and stored until the fast ends (via My Jewish Learning). Though many of the appys' storefronts closed, the vital role of the food that they carried remained.

Appetizing shops are attempting to make a comeback in New York City. (Shelsky's is one of the city's more recently opened shops, selling items like cured fish, caviar, and rugelach.) Whether anything old can be new again, there is no doubting that appetizing shops played a vital role in the zeitgeist of early- to mid-20th century New York City culinary culture.