New York City is a melting pot of extraordinary cultures, traditions, customs and personalities. Neighborhoods represent a blending of international flavors as you stroll borough to borough, uptown to downtown or just door to door. When you order lox and bagels on a Sunday morning in New York City, you don’t expect to be welcomed by three fascinating and engaging brothers from Hong Kong. Sable’s Smoked Fish, a 25 year old Chinese run appetizing shop, located at 1489 Second Avenue is a gem in a warm neighborhood with patrons visiting from all over the city. A visit for a breakfast can transform a bagel with the works into a lesson in Chinese history and ancient culture spoken in Cantonese, Mandarin and Fujianese.
Kenny, Henry and Danny Sze were born to parents from Fujian in the city of Hong Kong in the 1960s. In 1972, Mrs. Sze, her three sons and stepfather emigrated from the congested streets of Hong Kong, to Chinatown, located in downtown Manhattan. Growing up in two different worlds, it was difficult for an immigrant family to break the language barrier and cultural mold in New York, explained Danny Sze in a recent interview in his busy establishment. The Sze brothers learned English in grade school in downtown Manhattan, and eventually became fluent in four languages, including Mandarin and Cantonese as well as Fujianese in the home. Growing up in Chinatown, skipping college and going straight to the workplace, the Sze brothers went into appetizing in 1980 at the Bagel Nosh, one of Manhattan’s most premier delicatessens at the time. They moved to the iconic Zabar’s in 1980s, starting at the bottom and working their way to become Co-Managers of the Appetizing Department. At Zabar’s, the brothers used every opportunity to learn skills and techniques from the Zabar Dynasty hoping to one day to showcase their mastery in their own business.
The Sze brothers finally opened up their own shop in 1991, planting their strong roots, experienced hospitality, rich Chinese culture and endearing family ties. Sable’s, the store’s name, is a pescatarian delicacy and symbolizes a lucky and prosperous life in Chinese culture, which is why fish (鱼) is eaten on Chinese New Year. Signifying “Abundance through the year”, 年年有余 (Nián Nián Yǒu Yú), fish is an indispensable part of the family dinner celebration. Danny wanted to create a family business founded on the strength of his Chinese roots, memories and family values, and in turn wanted to integrate it into the rich culture of New York City. Traditional specialities and delicacies offered at Sable’s include smoked salmon, sturgeon, pickled herring, caviar, foie gras paté, fresh bagels, rugelach, chocolate babka and most of all, SABLE!
As a tradition, Danny and his brothers adorned the shop walls with photos with generations of visitors; especially celebrities and families with young children who accompanied their parents to Sable’s and returned to share the experience with children of their own. This concept of family is central to both Chinese and American culture where generations focus on the family unit always looking to celebrate events and occasions that bring them together. The brothers also try to weave special Chinese cultures and customs into the spirit and energy of the shop. During the Chinese New Year, traditional firecrackers are hung from the ceiling alongside assorted bagels, Chinese art is adorned behind the counter and a feeling of celebration is in the air. Sable’s is truly a place where holidays and traditions are celebrated and cultures are intertwined.
Some of the information and pictures in this article came from the following sources:
“About.” Sable’s NYC, sablesnyc.com/about. Accessed 5 Oct. 2017.
Queenofthehighways. “Facelift.” TripAdvisor, 6 July 2013, www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g60763-d481061-i74752844-Sable_s_Smoked_Fish-New_York_City_New_York.html. Accessed 5 Oct. 2017.
Vadukul, Alex. “A 25-Year-Old Nova in the Smoked Fish Universe.” The New York Times [New York], 29 June 2016, NY/Region sec. The New York Times, www.nytimes.com/2016/07/03/nyregion/a-25-year-old-nova-in-the-smoked-fish-universe.html?_r=0. Accessed 5 Oct. 2017.