Old-World and Jewish Goodies at Sacha Finkelsztajn

Sacha 8Prior to World War II, the Marais was the center of Jewish life in Paris and the Rue des Rosiers (Street of the Rose Bushes) was the heart of this Jewish enclave.

But much has changed in the old Jewish quarter, once called the Pletzl (Yiddish for “little place”)—and in the larger Marais itself—over the past 70 years. The Holocaust, during which many French Jews were rounded up in the Marais and sent to extermination camps, suburbanization in the post-war years, the migration of Jews to other parts of Paris (notably the 9th, 11th, 13th, 19th and 20th arrondissements) and gentrification during the past two decades all have given the Rue des Rosiers a decidedly non-Jewish feel today.

The street now boasts considerably more trendy and overpriced boutiques (even a number of international chain stores) than Jewish businesses.

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The Finkelsztajns

But there are still remnants of Paris’s once-thriving Jewish district along the five block-long street and its adjacent lanes: the Agudath Hakehilot orthodox synagogue, a Jewish boys’ school that was the site of mass roundups of Jewish students and teachers during World War II, Judaica bookstores Librairie Bibliophane and Diasporama, and a number of kosher restaurants and delis.

A must-stop destination among these is Sacha Finkelsztajn, a bakery and delicatessen dubbed by locals as La Boutique Jaune (the yellow shop)—so-named because of its bright yellow facade—that’s been operating for nearly 60 years.The business was founded in 1946 by Dora and Itzik Finkelsztajn, Polish Jews who fled the country in the early 1930s as the Nazis began to seize power in neighboring Germany. The couple opened the deli and bakery to offer specialty food items from Central Europe and Russia to the large native and immigrant Jewish populations in the City of Light. In fact, the first foods sold at the shop were those prepared directly from Itzik’s Ashkenazi recipes. (Ashkenazis are Jews of central or Eastern European descent.)

Sacha 6Ownership of the shop was passed down in the early 1970s to the next generation of Finkelsztajns, Hono and Henri, who added more inventive foods and additional international dishes to the shop’s traditional fare, including eggplant caviar, chopped liver and Albanian cheese.

Today, the business is run by Sacha Finkelsztajn, the grandson of Dora and Itzik.

“It is always with great pride and emotion that I strive to convey the soul and knowhow of my family’s shop, which is now past its 50th anniversary and has a reputation that exceeds well beyond our borders,” Sacha says on the business’s website. “The 21st century offers us more than every the opportunity to combine tradition and modernity.”

Sacha 4Of course, new recipes and contemporary international foods are always a welcome addition at Sacha Finkelsztajn. But locals and tourists alike flock to the deli and bakery for its unmatched array of traditional Jewish and Central European foods, like krepleh, blinis, Challah bread, gefilte fish, knishes and so much more. And for the lucky few, there are a handful of tiny tables and seats along a small counter lining one of the shop’s walls where these tasty dishes can be enjoyed.

Among the most popular offerings are the shop’s sandwiches, which includes the “Decouverte” that includes a choice of fish (such as gefilte fish or herring) with vegetables, the “Duo” that combines two savory choices with vegetables, and the “Yiddish” that includes eggplant caviar, marinated peppers and a choice of two of the shop’s meats, such as beef brisket, pastrami, beef tongue, chopped liver or smoked turkey. All are served on Sacha Finkelsztajn’s homemade breads.

But there’s nothing quite like the bakery’s out-of-this-world pastries and desserts, particularly its varieties of cheesecake, called vatrouchka, sernik and kesikouchens. Of course, there’s the standard version (much more dense and less sweet than typical American cheesecakes), but other selectionsinclude lemon, vanilla-grape, sour cherry, orange-cinnamon and even a “light” cheesecake with fewer calories.

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Sacha Finkelsztajn’s cheesecake

This isn’t your standard New York cheesecake that’s usually very heavy and very sweet. The cheesecakes prepared at Sacha Finkelsztajn are much more subtle, with a more pronounced cheese flavor, only a hint a sweetness and an airiness instead of the thick creaminess found in U.S. versions of the dessert. In fact, it’s the softness of the Sacha Finkelsztajn recipes that makes these cakes one of my favorite desserts in Paris—I don’t feel like there’s a huge brick resting in my stomach when I’m done the way I do after eating a slice at home.

But be warned: Many self-proclaimed American “connoisseurs” of cheesecake turn their noses up at Sacha Finkelsztajn’s products, instead preferring something more solid, sweeter and creamier. And better yet, smothered with a fruit topping that’s sweetened with even more sugar.To each his or her own, of course. But if you’re looking for a treat that’s dense and sweet, you’re better off choosing one of Sacha Finkelsztajn’s other delicious pastries, such as the shop’s delicious strudel or decadent Sacher torte.

Other pastry and bread options include:

  • Sacha 9Viennese strudel
  • Polish poppy seed strudel
  • Romanian strudel with almonds and grapes
  • Paver (filled pie) with poppy seeds, raisins, figs, prunes and almonds
  • Queen of Sheba chocolate pastry
  • Sacher torte
  • Polish babka
  • Linzer torte
  • Mandelbrodt cookies
  • Kourabie (Greek shortbread) with almonds
  • Classic rye and wheat loaves with caraway seeds
  • Bagels
  • Challah bread
  • Pletzels with onions
  • Braided bread loaves
  • Matselehs—crispy patties with onions and sesame seeds or with salt and poppy seeds
  • Razowy bread in sourdough or rye varieties

Deli products include:

  • Sacha 1Pierogis
  • Romanian eggplant caviar
  • Ukrainian tarama (spread made from fish eggs)
  • Thessaloniki caviar of peppers and herbs
  • Polish chopped herring
  • Yiddish gehakte leber (chopped poultry livers with onions)
  • Hungarian korozot (cheese with paprika)
  • Albanian herb cheese
  • Italian peperone (cheese with peppers)
  • Venetian tuna with olives
  • Hummus
  • Gefilte fish
  • Veal jelly (called Bernard)
  • Fatty herring filets (called Schmaltz)
  • Marinated herring
  • Herring in cream (called Ogurk)
  • Hungarian or Polish goulash
  • Krepleh meat dumplings
  • Blinis
  • Beef brisket cooked in brine (called Pickel fleish)
  • Pastrami
  • Beef tongue
  • Smoked turkey
  • Craco sausage (made with goose fat)
  • Hunter sausage (a type of Polish kielbasa)
  • Latkes (crispy potato pancakes, plain or filled with meal)
  • Carelian (a dish made with beef, eggplant, spinach or salmon)
  • Bulgarian Borek (a filo pastry filled with sheep cheese, peppers and spinach or vegetables

Sacha 5Sacha Finkelsztajn also produces a number of specific Jewish holiday dishes, including:

  • Kolitch and other sweet pastries with honey for Rash Hashanah and the feasts of Tishri
  • Ponchkes, sovganiot and other filled donuts for Hanukkah
  • Several varieties of hamantachen for Purim
  • Unleavened bread, pastries and almond cakes for Passover
  • Numerous pastries made with milk of cheese, such as blintzes, for Shavout

Sacha Finkelsztajn is located at 27 Rue des Rosiers. Its hours are Monday and Wednesday-Sunday (closed Tuesday) from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The shop also closes for summer vacation each year from mid-July through mid-August.

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