What is it, I wonder, about the German fondness for the flesh of the pig and the Jewish abhorrence of it? Like lust, revulsion too is a visceral thing fueled by the same hunger, only in reverse, a passion linked to the salivary glands that passes down the gullet to tantalize and taunt the gut. For Viennese Jewish refugees like my parents, it was a constant tug of war. My mother would not permit it in our home, but my father had to have his weekly fix.
They and others like them found a felicitous culinary compromise at Bloch and Falk, a short-lived kosher idyll of Wurst run by Berlin émigrés that briefly thrived in the early sixties and then disappeared, as a consequence of changing demographics, on 37th Avenue, near the corner of 74th Street, in Jackson Heights, Queens, an enclave subsequently redubbed Little Bombay where now the Indians, Pakistanis and Sikhs coexist with their conflicting tastes and taboos.
In that Jewish replica of German Wurst-lust, the reprehensible pig-craving was painstakingly and precisely transposed, or rather reformed, into a kosher cow-craving. But even as a boy, I fathomed that, to get the flavors right, or at least to find a fair Kosher approximation for pork sausage, some enterprising Jewish butcher armed with a meat grinder and a willing tongue, had at least temporarily to suspend his Semitic aversion and embrace Teutonic taste whole-hog, applying a Talmudic rigor to isolate and translate porcine products, and beef them up for a Jewish palate.
How well do I remember Bloch and Falk’s the grand opening, with banners unfurled and mountains of Belegte Brötchen (finger sandwiches) stacked tall, free for the picking, stuffed with slabs of sausage and smoked meat of every description, Teewurst, Krakauer, Kopfkäse, Jägerwurst, Leberwurst.
From near and far they came, the strongly accented refugees of my parents’ generation, dressed to a T in ties and jackets or skirted suits, German from head to toe, except for a few recalcitrant curls and a certain sadness that never quite muffled their innate exuberance. Waiting patiently on line, with their little native-born progeny in tow, their mouths watered for a licensed taste of the taboo.
One woman, I recall, got so excited approaching the counter she could not control herself and succumbed to a nervous cough that sounded suspiciously like a dog’s bark. “Bitte, Lise! Control yourself!” her mortified husband looked aghast. But she couldn’t help it, and in any case, nobody but me seemed to notice, every other customer consumed by his or her own craving. Was it an involuntary response to the scent of sausage, I wonder, or just a bad case of the hiccups mythologized in my memory?
But on Saturdays, when Bloch and Falk was closed, my understanding mother turned a blind eye. My father, a man of prodigious appetite, took my brother and myself along on his weekly expedition to the City, ostensibly to buy tea from a Palestinian tea and coffee shop downtown, my recollection of which is laced with exotic scents. But afterwards we always ended up at Schaller and Weber, a German deli, now a chain, to sample a thick slab of the real thing, forbidden flesh cut off a fresh hot loaf of Leberkäse, still steaming under the knife. Sliced by a bald-headed counterman with gold-capped teeth and a grotesque grin straight out of a Georg Grosz drawing, it was the incarnation of what my father had fled. I watched him savor every bite.