AskDefine | Define delicatessen

Dictionary Definition



1 ready-to-eat food products [syn: delicatessen food]
2 a shop selling delicatessen (as salads or cooked meats) [syn: deli, food shop]

User Contributed Dictionary



From German Delikatessen< Delikatesse< French délicatesse< Italian delicatezza< delicato< Latin delicatus


  1. A shop that sells cooked or prepared foods ready for serving.

Derived terms

See also


  • Spanish: delicatessen

Extensive Definition

Delicatessen is a term meaning "delicacies" or "fine foods". The word entered English via German, with the old German spelling (modern German: Delikatessen), plural of Delicatesse "delicacy", ultimately from Latin delicatus.
The term delicatessen has a secondary meaning in some countries, referring to stores that sell delicatessen, hence a shortened term for delicatessen store, sometimes additionally shorted to the informal term deli.
In the United States, a delicatessen store, or deli, is a type of business that could be described as a synthesis of a grocery store and a fast-food restaurant. The delicatessen shop offers a wider and fresher menu than those found at chain fast food restaurants, rarely employing fry machines (except for chicken) and routinely preparing sandwiches to order.
A grocery store or supermarket may provide its own "deli" food, or even operate a delicatessen on-site. Like a market a delicatessen may also offer a selection of shelved food, often of the type that is not likely to be kept for more than a day. Produce, when present, is limited in quantity and often fresh. The Deli counter of a supermarket is where many people obtain their cold cuts.
Delicatessen shops vary greatly in size but are typically not as large as grocery stores. In areas with high rents for retail space, delicatessen shops are often quite small.
Delicatessens can come from a variety of cultural traditions. In the United States, most numerous are Jewish delicatessens, both kosher and "kosher style." As a result of this, Americans refer to those that specialise in Italian and German cuisine as "European Delicatessens."
In Europe, American Style Delis are provided largely by fast food outlets such as 'Subway'; this reflects the quality of produce available at these counters.

Product base

Most delicatessens have a sandwich menu, most of which are made to order behind the counter at the time of sale. Delicatessens often sell their meats by weight as cold cuts, and prepare party trays.
In addition to made-to-order sandwiches, many delicatessens offer made-to-order green salads. Equally common is a selection of prepared pasta, potato, chicken, tuna, shrimp, or other variety of "wet" salads, displayed underneath the counter and bought by weight or on a sandwich. Precooked chicken, shrimp, cheese, or eggplant products, possibly fried or parmigiana style, are found frequently, though they do not constitute the mainstay of a delicatessen.
In order to provide an opportunity for a complete meal, delicatessens also offer a wide variety of beverages, usually prepackaged soft drinks, coffee, teas, milk, etc. Chips and similar products are available in some variety, though they rarely rival the selection of small package cookies and snack foods; some pre-packaged, others store-made and cellophane wrapped.
Alongside these primarily lunch and dinner products, a delicatessen might also offer a number of additional items geared toward the breakfast eater, including pancakes, bacon, sausage, waffles, omelets and baked goods (breakfast pastries, bagels, toast), yogurt, and warm egg "breakfast sandwiches". Newspapers and small food items such as candy and mints are also usually available for purchase.

Urban affiliation

The North American delicatessen distribution is skewed towards cities, particularly older cities that are less car-oriented, thus favoring walk-in traffic. The residents of New York City have a particularly close connection to their delis, and many delicatessens outside of New York call themselves "New York delis," to evoke the emotional appeal of the traditional New York City delicatessen.

Delicatessen in Europe

In Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, "Delikatessen" (as it is spelled in current German) has a rather different meaning; it designates top-quality (and top-price) foodstuffs. A common synonym is Feinkost ("fine food") or similar to "Good Eats". The shops which sell them are called Delikatessenläden ("stores for delicacies"), and department stores often have a Delikatessenabteilung ("delicacies department"). You can also find Delicatessen in Denmark, Belgium and The Netherlands. None of these sells the take-out food that is characteristic of North American delicatessen.

Canadian usage

In Canada, both uses of the term are found. First-generation immigrants from Europe often use the term in a manner consistent with its original German meaning. As well, even Jewish delicatessens (as in Montreal, for example) can be either strictly take-out, or mixed take-out and sit-down restaurants.

Australian usage

In South Australia and Western Australia the terms delicatessen and deli are used to denote a small convenience store where people buy newspapers, milk, and sweets. In major centres outside of South Australia and Western Australia delicatessen retains the standard European meaning, and a delicatessen sells cured meats and sausage, pickled vegetables, dips, breads and olives. In Melbourne, Victoria, the finest European foods can be found at Central Square -Five Star- Delicatessan in Altona Meadows. Winning the The Hobsons Bay award for Cleanliness, Central Square Deli offers the finest European smallgoods, cured meats, fresh cheeses and assorted olives, that are ranked highly among the metropolitan areas. In South Australia and Western Australia these stores are called Continental delicatessen. The delicatessen or deli section in an Australian supermarket sells fresh foodstuffs similar to traditional European delicatessens.

Origin of the word

Reference works state that the word delicatessen comes from the German Delicatessen, the plural form of Delicatesse. This old spelling later changed to the spelling Delikatessen in current German. The word entered German from French délicatesse and means "delicious things (to eat)", but it ultimately originating from the Latin adjective delicatus, meaning "giving pleasure, delightful, pleasing" but also (especially regarding a person) "overly-luxurious, spoilt".
Because the original German word delicatessen is already in plural form, the English plural delicatessens effectively used a double plural.
An alternative (although wrong) (Citation Needed) popular etymology supposes that the -essen part of the word is in fact the German verb essen (= English: to eat; also German: das Essen = English: the food). This would mean that the word is a portmanteau of the German words "delikates" (delicious, nominative case) and "Essen". "Delikat essen" (with delikat as an adverb) is also a comprehensible phrase in itself in modern German, meaning "to eat delicious things".

List of famous delicatessens

See also

delicatessen in German: Feinkost
delicatessen in French: Delicatessen (gastronomie)
delicatessen in Hebrew: מעדנייה
delicatessen in Dutch: Delicatessen
delicatessen in Japanese: デリカテッセン
delicatessen in Russian: Деликатес
delicatessen in Swedish: Delikatess
delicatessen in Ukrainian: Делікатес

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

appetizing store, bakery, bakeshop, bodega, butcher shop, creamery, dairy, deli, food shop, food store, fruit stand, grocery, grocery store, groceteria, health food store, meat market, pork store, superette, supermarket, vegetable store
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