K Is For Kosher

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Maxine Stone
Maxine Stone

I had mixed feelings about shopping in this kosher supermarket in Great Neck. I thought the prices would be higher and the selection less eclectic. I have an attitude about food that tends to be more Whole Foods. Overcoming my prejudices because of the convenient location and intimate nature of the market, I proceeded to see what was available to suit my shopping needs.

I was pleasantly surprised by the generous supply of fruits and vegetables on display as well as the fine assortment of high-quality produce. As I walked up and down the aisles, an abundance of eye-catching colors and shapes glistened like jewels. My senses were immediately stimulated. I had to be careful not to get carried away and buy too much. The owners certainly knew how to display their merchandise for the utmost eye appeal.

As I was speculating on which cauliflower to buy, I noticed one of the managers standing near me. He was an Orthodox man with a black hat, white shirt and small beard. He had that pasty coloring that men have for lack of sun and exercise. He was of an indeterminate age—somewhere between 30 and 50.

I praised him on his fine wares and he immediately broke out in a big smile. It was as though I had complimented him on his children. I had touched the right button. He couldn’t resist launching into a spiel about how he buys the finest produce available, and that price was no object.

He then took the cauliflower I had selected out of my hands and reached for a huge white one from the shelf. “Here, take this one,” he said. “It’s much bigger, same price.” Why not?, I thought, a little bonus never hurts. I laughed at this unasked-for bargain and continued shopping.

This was becoming an adventure. I looked around.

In a slightly hidden corner, I saw a Japanese man making sushi. What a juxtaposition of ethnic types! His concoctions looked authentic. I thought it was quite clever of the management to take advantage of this lucrative trend.

On further inspection, I discovered a stand with a variety of olives and a barrel with sour pickles straight from Brooklyn. These were the genuine type that I remember noshing on as
I made my way home from school on Jerome Avenue.

While I was choosing the perfect pickle, an announcement came over the loudspeaker—“Moishe, Moishe,” the voice called insistently with a Yiddish inflection and bossy-sounding voice, “Come to the back.”

I chuckled. The flavor of the environment was beginning to seep in.

Answering the command of the loudspeaker, a younger version of the produce man stepped out. He was a clone of all the managers standing around the store.

Behind the appetizing and takeout counter stood Yussie, busily displaying his wares. He had that slightly stooped look of the merchants I remember from the Bronx—a little gruff and annoyed with life. When I asked for a taste of the soup being featured, he was very accommodating. It was good. I bought a quart to savor later. My stomach was starting to play a tune and the thought of enjoying my wares was getting to me.

If you think this is merely a review by a roving supermarket detective, not so. There are plenty of fine markets all over Long Island. Something else was happening here. The experience unfolding was the pleasant feeling I experienced as I walked around—the familiar Yiddishisms that I heard by the patrons as they shopped. The body language and speech cadence of Jewish people is very distinct—and it comes across in this shop with a capital K for kosher. The customers were relishing their shopping.

Not all my purchases were as good as they looked, but that’s true of everything. My often repeated mantra that things aren’t always what they seem held true. However, the comforting feeling I got from familiar foods and the nuanced voices of a familiar culture compensated for whatever disappointments I had.

I put aside my gourmand requirements and found that gourmet encompasses all foods, including knishes, sour pickles, kasha varnishkes—and even beef-cabbage soup.

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Maxine Stone is a columnist for Great Neck Record.

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