D.C. Diary: Nosh your average deli

Krupin’s, 4620 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
February 16
7:10 p.m.

Theresa, my Italian-Irish best friend, is trying to order at Krupin’s. Trying. She peers at the menu through wisps of blond hair and studies it intently, as if nervous she’ll be quizzed.

Her anxiety is partly because she is a vegetarian, so the heaping corned beef sandwich I’m looking forward to is definitely out. So is the matzo ball soup, for which we have intrepidly traveled 30 minutes (roundtrip) by Metro while endless, unfinished homework remains due tomorrow. Nor is she looking forward to my obnoxious habit of grading the Jewish-ness of her meal choice. She scrunches up her nose, points to something and nudges the menu over to me.

I think I want that, but I don’t know how to say it.

Blintzes, I exclaim. Very good Jewish choice, you’ll love them.

I’m proud of her for embracing my culture. Last time we came here, she whittled down her options to penne pasta and grilled cheese. To me, this feels like progress.

What am I? Chopped liver?

Calling Krupin’s a Jewish deli is not entirely accurate. It’s certainly not a kosher deli – my friend Grant’s Reuben sandwich dripping with melted Swiss cheese over corned beef makes that clear as day. But the place does boast knishes, hamantashen, chopped liver, kugel, lox and other Jewish delicacies that have spanned continents and centuries of oppression.

There are also the Jews themselves who never fail to appear. On this Tuesday night, pairs of silver-haired men are arguing loudly at scattered tables throughout the brightly lit room. Conversation runs the gamut from a heated debate over the prowess of Alan Greenspan to priceless comments I know will never be uttered allowed outside these walls. The woman behind us, for example, describes her well-endowed bowl of chicken soup – Oh my, two balls!

Krupin’s, which has been rated D.C.’s best deli since practically forever by the Washingtonian, is a magnet for interesting folks from inside the beltway such as my friend Steven, who astounds even a die-hard like me by always ordering chopped liver. We just missed nibbling our whitefish salad adjacent to Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and his kids, and the chief investigator for Larry Flynt during Monica-gate. All this we learned from our singularly intriguing waiter, who was none other than the third-ranked concert whistler in the world.

Food, glorious food

It is amazing what lengths people will go to share the food that reminds them of who they are with the ones they love. Every once in a while, my friend Theresa will schlep all the way out to Dean & DeLuca in Georgetown, just because she misses the taste of fresh mozzarella. When she recreates her father’s recipes in her residence hall kitchen, she says, they just don’t taste the same without it.

Another friend of mine once flew back from Chicago laden with a Tupperware of his mother’s matzo ball soup. The container nearly exploded several times en route, drenching his belongings with the unmistakable scent of chicken stock. I told him he was nuts. But once he served up the famous soup to his floor-mates – many of whom didn’t know a matzo ball from a bowling ball – their enlightened raves told him his work was worth all the trouble.

I dragged my friends to Krupin’s with all this in mind. We are what we eat, they say. And this was me, evaluating the ripeness of pickles and correcting Theresa’s Yiddish pronunciation. I was home.

Not everything translates exactly. Theresa ordered, and loved, the blintzes. With a side of spicy fries, that is. When it comes to culture-swapping, the beauty of trying is all that counts.

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