How a Jewish deli run by Muslims became the symbol of a changing neighborhood

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pastrami sandwich, Davids Brisket House

The Jewish delicatessen is an iconic American institution. Nowhere else in the world will you find a local shop so focused on the preparation of beef by curing, brining, and poaching.

Pastrami, corned beef, and brisket are usually the trifecta of meats atop the menu at traditional Jewish delis. These beloved dishes grew in popularity in the 1930s, when the Jewish delis — then competing with the newly arrived supermarkets — began serving to-go items, including the now-classic pastrami on rye. While they’re not quite as common today, there were up to 300 delis serving kosher dishes in New York City by the 1960s. 

These days, in the predominantly African-American neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant — or Bed-Stuy — in Brooklyn, you’ll find David’s Brisket House, a Jewish deli that has been owned by the same Muslim family for 50 years. 

The deli was originally kosher, owned by a Jewish family, but when its former owners put it on the market in the 1960s, it was bought by two business partners: one, a Yemenite Muslim, and the other a Yemenite Jew.

The partners decided that instead of changing the menu, they would keep customers coming back for their beloved meats. 

Today, even as Bed-Stuy faces vast socioeconomic change and gentrification, David’s Brisket House has survived as a neighborhood staple and a truly unique blend of cultures. The deli has stayed in the family and is now run by Riyadh Gazali, the nephew of one of the partners. 

We paid a visit to David’s Brisket House to learn more about the miraculous meat — here’s what we saw. 

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The deli is across the street from its original location. After the two men purchased it back in the 1960s, they started preparing meats in the halal tradition, but much of the menu remained the same. “It was actually a full-scale Jewish deli,” Gazali told Business Insider. “[My uncle] was [serving] the tongue, the kidney, veggie platters — he was [serving] a lot of stuff. That’s a lot of work for one person to do.”

When it comes to preparing meat, the kosher tradition is slightly more laborious than the halal tradition. Kosher practices include the removal of certain forbidden fat and veins from the animal, followed by a soak in water and various salts. But when it comes to the slaughtering, both religions focus on the fact that the animal must be killed in a humane way.

“It’s not shot, it’s not electrucuted, it’s not tortured,” Gazali said. “Then it’s considered halal.”
 

Since taking over the business full-time in 2010, Gazali has simplified the menu. The brisket is the only meat they prepare fully in-house.

It’s not simple. “It’s a four-hour process to cook the brisket,” he said. “The heavier weight it is, the longer it cooks. It’s oven-baked with vegetables like carrots, celery, and garlic. It needs a lot of attention — every thirty minutes we have to check on it to add water and flip it.”

See the rest of the story at Business Insider
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