Life & Culture

Deli delight for this Essex girl

Have you missed hanging out at a deli? Miranda Levy sings the praises of a Chigwell institution


hot latte coffee in take away paper coffee cup, ready to go coffee.

As the Great Unlock (stutteringly) continues, much of the chat is about the resumption of hospitality. In non-Jewish society, there is breathless anticipation of ordering a pint directly from the bar again, or sipping sangria on a Spanish beach.

For we Jews, however, it’s about sitting down in a deli with a bagel/beigel (the proper Essex pronunciation) and a fish ball.

The relationship of Jews and food is an old and well-chewed-over subject. The stereotype is that we live to eat: alcohol is more of a goyische pursuit. (Which isn’t surprising, given our first taste of booze was Palwin’s No 5 at the family seder table, though I’ve been surprised at the way some unlikely acquaintances put away the whiskey on a Friday night.)

This newest delaying of ‘Freedom Day’ is an irritation. Weddings are again being postponed; a close friend has had to delay her son’s barmitzvah for the third time. But, for others, the watershed date has already arrived: May 17, when we were finally allowed to sit inside cafés and delicatessens again.

Jews and cafés have a long and storied history. Woody Allen even released a 2016 film called Café Society. But, long before that, there were the Warsaw, Vienna and Odessa establishments where the Jews of pre-war Europe met for commerce and debate. “Literature, journalism, politics, business, music, art, religion,” writes Shachar M Pinsker in his book, A Rich Brew, How Cafés Created Modern Culture. “All of these elements, both what is considered ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture — were created in cafés. It’s also true that Jewish immigrants created café culture in many cities.”

But here, now — in the suburbs, where many Jews make their homes — isn’t this more of a deli society?

My local seat of culture is the Village Deli in Chigwell. Okay, as a throwback to Mitteleuropean glamour, it isn’t superficially arresting. The waiting staff are not dazzling Krakow maître d’s, but their distinctly unimpressed descendants. There are no pianos and grand ceiling fans, but wobbly outside tables and plastic rattan chairs.

But the coffee, the cheesecake and the goat’s cheese and red pepper beigels are to die for.

For many of we Essex denizens, it’s more than that. “The Village Deli is the beating heart of Chigwell,” declared a friend, this week. Quite simply, it’s where everyone goes.


Said Shachar M Pinsker, of the Romanisches café in Berlin: “It’s a place where everyone has his own table and he must come here every day, just as one has to pray every day.” We may not have a grand rebbe, but we do have Vic, as regular as clockwork, at an outside table every morning, with the Daily Mail and his dog.

The Village Deli plays a vital part in my own daily routine (stymied only by the first hardcore lockdown.) I use my 45-minute skinny latte round-trip as a breakfast ‘commute’, to break up my working-from-home day as a writer. Then I might pop back for an afternoon break. It often entertains me to sit and survey my fellow customers.

After school drop-off, and before pick-up, there are the lycra black-clad mums, always impeccably made up. There are lots of people with dachshunds, for some reason (that German flavour again). Then there are the tables of older men who probably painted the town red in Clapton back in the day, but are now more reminiscent of Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin in The Kominsky Method.

“The café mediates between public and private, real and imaginary, elitist culture and and mass consumption”, said Shachar M Pinsker. How much this applies to this Chigwell eaterie is a matter for debate. But this I do know: Unlockdown may be delayed yet again, but at the Village Deli, there is always a fabulous skinny latte and a latke.


Miranda Levy’s book: The Insomnia Diaries: How I Learned To Sleep Again (Aster, £9.99) is out now.





Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive