Munchies With Max: Embrace A Warm Black Sheep With Your Soul
By Max Gilbert ’13, Staff Writer
What is soul food? Well, it depends on whom you ask. For many, it’s classic American comfort food: macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, meatloaf, fried chicken, apple pie, etc. It often happens that what we call soul food or comfort food is fattening, greasy, salty, creamy or sweet. To me, however, soul food is whatever food happens to speak to your soul — food that elevates you regardless of what kind of day you are having. For me, that food happens to be the ultimate brunch spread: bagels and lox.

How did it come to be that Jewish Americans adopted this iconic tradition? Legend has it that a Viennese baker invented the bagel in 1683 as a gift to the king of Poland for his heroic battle against the Turks. The oblong rolls were called beugel (the Polish word for stirrup) in honor of the king’s cavalry. More recent anthropological explanations have uncovered that making bread with a hole in it dates back to ancient Egypt. Whatever the true history, bagels made their way to America through Eastern European Jewish immigrants settling in New York City.

Salted, smoked, brined and cured fishes have long been a part of the culinary tradition of Ashkenzic Jews, because they keep well and can be eaten with either dairy or meat according to Jewish dietary law. There is little historical evidence of salmon ever being eaten in the Old Country by Jews, chiefly because it was too expensive. In 1863, when the trans-continental railroad connected the East Coast with the Pacific Northwest, barrels of salted salmon were cheap and accessible for the first time. It took the invention of cream cheese by the Kraft food company to complete the trifecta, and the rest is history.

It turns out what we typically call lox actually isn’t true lox. From the German word lachs, meaning salmon, traditional lox is salt-brined and is not smoked. With the invention and widespread availability of refrigeration brining became unnecessary for preservation. The intensely ocean-y flavor was changed when the “Nova” style of lightly salting and then cold smoking became prominent.

When I’m in Amherst and I need some genuine soul food, I go to my favorite deli in town: The Black Sheep. This icon of main street Amherst is enormously popular for good reason. Their breads and baked goods are incredible, made daily (except for the bagels, which are delivered from H & H bagels in NYC every day), and the sandwich creations they make are second to none in the Pioneer Valley. They also have coffee, tea, salads, breakfast and a wonderfully friendly, polite and courteous staff. My “usual” sandwich is “The Valley Girl” (smoked turkey, brie and honey mustard on a baguette,) but to satisfy my kvetching stomach, I went for The New Yorker.

Usually served on a bagel or rye bread, this classic combo of cream cheese, lox, tomato and red onion always makes my day. Seeing as it was my second of the week, I decided to mix it up a little and asked for my sandwich on one of their fresh-baked, crusty, absolutely delicious baguettes. The result was exactly what I wanted — the perfect bite. The crunchy outside of the baguette gives way first to the tender inside, then to juicy tomato, tangy red onion, velvety cream cheese and finally salty, curiously sweet smoked salmon.

Issue 15, Submitted 2011-02-16 00:23:13