Usually, Jewish cookbooks don’t include the word “penis” in chapter titles. But Eat Something, a recently-released cookbook from Evan Bloom of Wise Sons Deli in San Francisco and food writer Rachel Levin, is anything but your traditional Jewish cookbook. And, yes, it includes a chapter called “On Pastrami and Penises.”
I see a lot of cookbooks. A lot. I even wrote one. But this one really stands out. I was immediately struck by the styling, format, photos, and anything-but-average content of Eat Something, which really speaks to the heart of why the new-wave deli has such a loyal following.
The book is infused with nostalgia on every page, including quintessential ’80s bar mitzvah photos with big hair and even bigger shoulder pads, quirky illustrations, an ode to their parents’ pantries (which include items like cream of mushroom soup and Lipton onion soup mix), and the stunning inside cover which is simply a close-up shot of onion skins. After all, is there any ingredient more Jewish than onions?
If you love to fill your shelves with a recipe-heavy cookbook, this isn’t exactly it. The recipes are accessible and stereotypically Jewish-American: the holiday brisket, homemade matzah, hamantaschen with several filling ideas, and even classic sweet and sour meatballs. But they also give variations on how to repurpose pastrami (pastrami carbonara! pastrami fried rice!), how to upcycle chicken broth into egg drop soup, and challah grilled cheese.
Some of the recipes aren’t exactly recipes at all. Rather, they are loose but very useful ideas: a guide on how to create different flavor “schmears;” several pages on how to create the ideal brunch spread; how to create “chopped liver toast,” the far more indulgent Boomer counterpart to an avocado toast. Notes about which kind of salt to use, how to build the best bagel sandwich, and Grandma’s secret recipe for brisket impart knowledge as well as joy. The recipes are all things you want to make, and foods are, at least for an American audience, comforting and homey.
The introduction chapter reads, “This casual, contemporary, lighthearted take on a book is decidedly Wise Sons. Wise Sons’ philosophy is to preserve our past, and make it taste better.” Mission accomplished.
Make sure to check out Evan Bloom’s recipe for Sweet and Sour Meatballs.