The Jewish Breakfast

Tom Cardella

I love a good Jewish breakfast. If any ethnic or racial group owns breakfast time, it’s the Jews. If you’re a person who skips breakfast, you’re not Jewish. If I hadn’t grown up in a Jewish neighborhood, I also would’ve been ignorant of the joys of breakfast. I might even be one of those folks who skip breakfast; otherwise known as anyone who’s not Jewish.

You can argue that a Jewish breakfast is high in cholesterol. That’s true. I understand that when a Jewish male is born, the birthing doctor slaps the baby on the ass and gives him a small dose of Lipitor. That’s so he can enjoy a nice bagel and lox sandwich with a schmear of cream cheese without having a heart attack before his bar mitzvah.

You tell me lox is too high in salt. I tell you I know that. If you eat lox for lunch, you have ingested about a year’s supply of your daily sodium intake. But note that the same newly born Jewish male who received Lipitor at birth is also given a tiny dose of Nifedipine to keep his blood pressure in line. It’s a tradeoff, a little medicine at birth in return for a lifetime of enjoying bagels and lox. Look at it this way, if you’re OK with circumcision (like you had a choice?), what’s a few drugs at birth?

As a non-Jew, I’m willing to eat Nova smoked salmon, which has a bit less salt. My Jewish friends tell me that Nova has no taste. They prefer belly lox. I know folks who’ve had a heart attack just reading the sodium content in belly lox. Jewish delis ought to be required to have paramedics on hand at all times.

Smoked fish costs a lot. I’m not sure why. The shelf life of smoked fish is about a century and a half. If you have a taste for smoked sturgeon, you may have to rob banks to afford a couple of slices. Jewish delicacies were expensive even when I was a kid. My neighbors were buying lox by the ounce (I think it was slightly more expensive than gold Kruggerands).

Another great Jewish breakfast is salami and eggs. There’s a world of difference between Italian salami and Jewish salami. Learning the difference between the two salamis is part of growing up. Don’t get me wrong. I like both salamis, but each has a different purpose. Italian salami is perfect for lunch and dinner. You wouldn’t want to slice a Foremost kosher salami into your antipasto. But with scrambled eggs at breakfast, it’s out with the Genoa and give me the garlicky taste of Jewish salami.

Gentiles tend to turn their noses up at the idea of fish for breakfast. Let them. More Nova for me. The real controversy, even among my Jewish friends, is, do you toast the bagel or not? I can go either way. I’m bi-bageler when it comes to bagels. But when you buy bagels in bulk like we do, you have to freeze them. Therefore, I find myself toasting my bagels. Bagel purists, please forgive me. I don’t like the way they’ve gone fancy with the varieties of bagels these days. Nowadays, delis carry about 32 varieties of bagels. They’ve turned the deli into a Baskin-Robbins. Bagels should not taste like French toast or have blueberries in them. Bagels should either be plain or when paired with smoked fish, perhaps onion or garlic. If I were a bagel-maker, I would refuse to make any other kind of bagels. Take me to the Supreme Court, if you have a problem with that. You like poppy and sesame seeds on your bagels? Thank the Lord for your healthy intestines. My intestines are like city streets. Lots of potholes. So, no seeds.

Jewish breakfast pastry is very underrated. Even the tea biscuits in a Jewish bakery taste better. One of the best bakeries in my area doesn’t make Jewish rye bread. This bakery carries French rye. I never knew the French ate any kind of rye bread, but it’s not good old Jewish rye. In order to qualify as authentic Jewish rye, the bread has to have caraway seeds. No caraway seeds? Give it to the French.

You may be wondering where I place corned beef and pastrami in the scheme of things. Jewish lunch meat is part of lunch. An extraordinary fatty delight. Much superior to olive loaf, liverwurst or even turkey or ham. So does Jewish food dominate lunch, too? You could make a strong case for Jewish dominance in this second meal of the day. Especially when you add in the kosher pickles and sour tomatoes. I’m hesitant to declare the Jewish deli sandwich king of lunch, because this is where the Italians have made serious inroads.

Understand, my people — the Italians — refuse to get involved with breakfast. We have ceded breakfast to the Jewish people without question. Never go to an Italian restaurant for breakfast. Doing so is worse than patronizing a restaurant called MOM’s. Even in Italy, my people are clueless when it comes to breakfast. The Italians don’t know what to do about offering a good breakfast. You get some sliced lunch meat. That’s lunch, folks, not breakfast. You might get an Italian brand of yogurt (yogurt belongs to the Greeks and they can have it). My dear late mother-in-law used to fry the breakfast eggs in the same oil she used to fry peppers. You’re better off sticking to a cup of espresso or skipping the Italian version of breakfast entirely. But by lunch and dinner, the skill of Italians’ culinary expertise has awakened. Even if you’re Jewish, you’re eating in Italian restaurants for dinner.

Israel is a wonderful country, but I don’t know what happened to their cuisine. I know many folks prize Israeli cuisine, but when you substitute hummus for cream cheese, you risk losing me. Israelis are too damn health-conscious.

Anyone see where I put my Lipitor? I think I left it next to my pastrami sandwich.