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New York City corned beef sandwiches tell salty tale of American immigrant success

The corned beef sandwiches found in New York City's delis tell the tale of immigrant success while becoming an iconic taste of America's largest city.

Born in brine and bounded by rye, the layers of corned beef serve as pages that tell the delicious story of the American experience.

New York City's globally renowned corned beef sandwiches were carved from Old World immigrant food preservation techniques in the hardscrabble Lower East Side of the 19th century. 

What emerged from the struggle was an oversized all-American culinary delicacy as big, bold and ambitious as the dreams of the immigrants who built the boundless nation. 

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The Jewish delis of New York City, including Katz’s Delicatessen, Second Avenue Deli and Sarge’s Delicatessen and Diner, among others, stand today as pop-culture icons and bucket-list destinations for food lovers from around the world seeking a true taste of America. 

"The delis we know today originated here on the Lower East Side when Jewish immigrants arrived in the late 1800s," Jake Dell, the fifth-generation owner of Katz's Deli, told Fox News Digital. 

Jews from Europe found themselves packed in a first-of-its-kind global melting pot ghetto beside Catholics from Ireland and Poland, protestants from Germany, and a myriad of other people from cultures all around the world. 

Poor Jewish refugees, much like their Irish neighbors, took the cheapest scraps from America's beef industry, tough-cut brisket most notably, and preserved the meat in salt and various pickling spices in the era before refrigeration. 

There is no corn in corned beef. 

The phrase instead references the large kernels of rock salt traditionally used in the brine.

Pastrami, a close cousin of corned beef, is similarly cured but from navel cuts of beef and then smoked. It’s typically darker than corned beef and recognizable by its black-pepper crust. 

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The corned beef sandwich is now an American culinary delicacy and a signature taste of the Big Apple beloved by New Yorkers from all walks of life. 

New York City’s Jewish delis grew in popularity in the wake of the Holocaust, according to historian Marilyn Kushner. 

"A lot of times when survivors came here after World War II, they would gravitate toward the delis because that's where they found community," Kushner told Delish.com in a 2022 interview. 

"Delis became a home away from home if people didn't want to go to shul or the synagogue." 

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Jews could "find friends and sometimes even employment"at the local deli, the story adds. 

Delis have waxed and waned in popularity over the years. 

The world-famous Carnegie Deli in Times Square closed in 2016. Second Avenue Deli shuttered its celebrated East Village location in 2006 and reopened in 2007 on First Avenue on the Upper East Side, keeping its original name. 

Reuben's Restaurant and Delicatessen, the reported namesake of the sandwich, closed in the 1980s after decades of popularity. 

Katz’s achieved global notoriety from one of the most iconic scenes in Hollywood history in the 1989 hit movie "When Harry Met Sally." 

Co-stars Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal were eating lunch at Katz’s when "Sally" loudly feigned heightened pleasure in the packed restaurant.

"I’ll have what she’s having," an older female diner — played by Estelle Reiner, mother of director Rob Reiner and wife of comedian, actor and entertainer Carl Reiner — famously deadpanned after the salacious spectacle. 

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A sign hangs over the table today celebrating its role in silver-screen history. 

Dell, the owner of Katz's, says fame has not changed the essence of the New York deli experience. 

"We focus on three things and always first is the food quality," said Dell. 

"It doesn't matter who you are or what your history is if your food sucks."

Katz's, he added, continues to patiently cure its own corned beef in house, while nostalgia and tradition are essential to the experience, too. 

Each sandwich is hand-carved right in front of the customers who enjoy a fresh-cut sample of their meat selection while waiting.

Katz's clings to its archaic deli-counter ticket-and-pay system as part of the experience, despite more efficient modern check-out methods. A World War II-era sign still declares "Send a salami to your boy in the army."

"This place is a time capsule and this food is a time capsule. We embrace that and we love it. Katz's has that atmosphere where it's a fun place with lots of energy and still has tradition."

For more Lifestyle articles, visit www.foxnews.com/lifestyle.

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