THE BITE: It pains me to see how many mom and pop delis have completely abandoned preparing their own foodstuffs. We’re lucky in this neighborhood that we still have so many shops that still make something, but in the world of the deli, almost all have succumbed to the mighty Boar’s Head for the meats they offer. This causes such tsuris for me, as the flavors of the individual delis are becoming indistinguishable from one another. Luckily a few stalwarts, like Henry’s Deli (2921 Avenue S) still offer something “homemade.”
I stumbled into Henry’s Deli looking to explore the “Irish Food” that a sign in their front windows was proclaiming. It promised “Irish Sausages” and “Mushy Pudding,” among a laundry list of other “Irish” foods. What brought me into the store was the promise of the “mushy pudding.” That was something my Irish grandmother never foisted on us as kids. I have never heard of it and so I wanted to try it out. The name teased me – “isn’t all pudding mushy,” I thought?
Alas, they were out of mushy pudding. Instead I found one of my favorite snacks; home-made rice pudding for only $4 per pound.
I have to admit, I never tried rice pudding until I was in my thirties. It just wasn’t something that was served in my home. After Bill Cosby relentlessly pounded Jello pudding and pudding pops into the culture, pudding wasn’t a dessert that appealed to me. In my mind, it was a child’s food, served by an old buffoon.
I was given rice pudding at the home of my boss after a meal as a thank you for repairing her computer. I had no idea what it was, but like a good little boy, I ate everything that was presented to me. I took a spoonful. What was this? This is good. Rice pudding, I was told, and I haven’t looked back since.
Rice pudding has many variations throughout the world, but one could argue that any culture capable of growing rice has their own version. In America the most common version is based on the English culture. Rice is heated with milk, then sugar and cream is added. It’s seasoned with vanilla, cooked until the rice is tender and has released enough startch to cause the mixture to firm, or to create pudding. Often it is topped with cinnamon or nutmeg.
Henry’s rice pudding is rich, creamy and smooth. It’s sweet without being cloying. Thick without being heavy. It’s just about perfect. We did top it with some ground cinnamon when we got it to the office, but that’s a personal choice. It’s not a requirement for this wondrous treat.
It is believed that rice pudding was the last meal of Buddha before he achieved enlightenment. According to the New World Encyclopedia…
After nearly starving himself to death by restricting his food intake to around a leaf or nut per day, he collapsed in a river while bathing and almost drowned. Siddhārtha began to reconsider his path. Then, he remembered a moment in childhood in which he had been watching his father start the season’s plowing, and he had fallen into a naturally concentrated and focused state that was blissful and refreshing. He accepted a little milk and rice pudding from a village girl. Then, sitting under a pipal tree, now known as the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, he vowed never to arise until he had found the truth.
Now I’m not going to tell you that the rice pudding from Henry’s is going to bring you to spiritual enlightenment, but, well, maybe if you, like the Buddha, combine it with the right trees…
Henry’s Deli, 2921 Avenue S (718) 375-8500.
The Bite is Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.