Entry in progress—B.P.
Pastrami is a popular delicatessen meat made from chiefly red meat.
The raw meat is salted (through immersion in a thick brine), then partly dried and seasoned with various herbs and spices (such as garlic, crushed coriander, black pepper, marjoram, basil, allspice, cloves), and smoked. In the United Kingdom and the United States, beef is used and the meat is steamed after smoking, before serving.
The English word pastrami is derived from the Yiddish: פּאַסטראָמע (pronounced pastróme). Both the dish and the word were brought to the United States with a wave of the Jewish immigration from Bessarabia and Romania in the second half of the 19th century; it is a signature dish of the local Jewish cuisine of these regions. The word, however, as used in Yiddish and various languages of the Balkans (e.g. Romanian pastramă), which entered the Russian language as pastromá, is likely of Turkish origin, spread during the period of the Ottoman domination of the region. The authoritative dictionary of gastronomic terminology of the Yiddish language (by Dr. M. Schaechter) and the official etymological dictionary of the Romanian language, the Dicţionarul explicativ al limbii române, derive the term from Turkish pastırma. Indeed the ancient Turkish word for it is “basturma” (which means “pressed") from which the words pastırma and pastrami have been derived. One legend recounts that Turkic horsemen of Central Asia used to preserve meat by placing slabs of it in the pockets on the sides of their saddles, where it would be pressed by their legs as they rode.
An analogous Armenian and Middle Eastern dish is known as basturma. Early references in English spelled “pastrama”, while its current form is associated with a Jewish store selling “pastrami” in New York City in 1887. It is likely that this spelling was introduced to sound related to the Italian salami.
Unlike its Jewish and derivatively modern American counterparts (where pastrami is exclusively a beef dish), in the Romanian tradition, mutton was used and over time pork became the prevalent choice. Romanians distinguish between different kinds of pastrami, depending on the meat used. When not specified, pork is implied.
It usually is served as a cold cut in sandwiches, but it can also be heated and served as a side dish with various foods. One such example is fried pastrami, with corn mamaliga (similar to the Italian dish polenta) and green onions.
Traditional New York pastrami is made from the navel end of the brisket, which contains considerably more fat than the chest area. It is first cured in brine like corned beef, and then coated with a mix of spices and smoked. It is typically sliced and served hot in a rye bread sandwich, sometimes with cole slaw and Russian dressing. It is also commonly found in the popular Reuben Sandwich. In recent years, this version of pastrami has become hard to find, due to the scarcity of old-fashioned Jewish delicatessens.
The woman whose great-grandfather introduced pastrami to the New World explores an American institution that is as hard to define as it is easy to recognize
By Patricia Volk
The great immigration of the late-nineteenth century brought unheard-of things to America: Tin Pan Alley, Bakelite, the first air-conditioned hat. And thanks to Sussman Volk, pastrami. In 1887, a not-great year for Jews in Vilna, my great-grandfather packed up his wife and seven children and headed for New York. He had nine fingers, having shot one off to avoid the Russian draft.
In Vilna, Sussman was a miller. But New York didn’t need millers. So he became a tinker, mending pots and pans and selling them off his back. On the road, he would sleep in the stables of the people he sold pots to. While praying one morning in New Rochelle, he was kicked by a horse, which made him tear his hair and shout, “My life lacks dignity!”
Being a religious man, Reb Sussman knew the kosher way to butcher meat. He opened a tiny shop at 86½ Delancey Street in New York City. The first week, a Rumanian stopped by and asked if he could store a trunk in the cellar. “I’m just going back for a few years,” he said.
“If I let you store your trunk in my cellar,” Reb Sussman bargained, “what will you give me?”
“If you let me store my trunk in your cellar, I will give you the recipe for pastrami.”
Great-grandpa took the trunk and the recipe and began selling chunks of pastrami over the counter. Soon he was selling it by the slice. Then between two pieces of bread. Since the application of mustard to a pastrami sandwich should be done at the last possible moment so the mustard doesn’t get hot and sink into the rye (which should be soft but never gummy), after school all seven of Reb Sussman’s children worked in the store making toodles. A toodle is a little square of wax paper rolled into a cone with a dollop of mustard in it—a precursor to the stingy plastic mustard bags you tear open with your teeth on airplanes. With a toodle, you could take a pastrami sandwich to work in the morning and lay a squiggle of fresh mustard on it at lunch.
Reb Sussman’s pastrami sandwiches took off. He moved from 86 ½ Delancey Street to 88 Delancey Street. Here he had room to put in tables and chairs. Overnight, Sussman Volk’s was no longer just a butcher’s. You could sit there and eat. It was 1888. The first New York deli was born. (Around this time, according to family lore, Sussman’s son Albert, working independently, became the first man to stir scallions into cream cheese.)
Main Entry: pas·tra·mi
Variant(s): also pas·tromi \pə-ˈsträ-mē\
Etymology: Yiddish pastrame, from Romanian pastramă pressed and cured meat
: a highly seasoned smoked beef prepared especially from shoulder cuts
(Oxford English Dictionary)
[< Yiddish pastrame (in Ashkenazic pronunciation pastrami) < Romanian pastram pressed and preserved meat (1792; also as pstram) < Ottoman Turkish badirma (Turkish pastrma) in the same sense; further etymology unknown. Cf. modern Greek , Bulgarian pastrma (< Turkish).
Cf. the following earlier quotations, the first two prob. reflecting the Turkish etymon or a possible Middle Eastern source of it (in quot. 1834 relating travels in Asia Minor in the first half of the 17th cent.), the latter two reflecting the Romanian:
1831 A. N. GROVES Jrnl. 12 Sept. in Jrnl. Resid. Bagdad (1832) 250 We made him some sausages, called in this country pastourma.
1834 J. VON HAMMER tr. E. Efendi Narr. Trav. (1968) I. II. 148 The Merchants of dried salted beef (Tajirani Pasdirma)..cry to the beholders, ‘Take Pasdirma.’
1853 Househ. Words 17 Dec. 374/1 The common articles of food [in Varna] are pastruma, that is to say, the meat of oxen or buffaloes salted and dried in the sun.
1887 M. THORPE tr. E. de Laveleye Balkan Penins. xii. 352 They..dry the meat, which is, as pastrama,..their favourite dish.
Pastrami was app. first sold in the U.S. in a Jewish delicatessen c1887. The Yiddish word is also occas. found earlier in English context in the forms pastroma and pastrama. Cf.:
1914 N.Y. Times 21 Aug. 5 From the local market came the complaint of the Kosher delicatessen men that the manufacturers had put up prices. Pastrama, they said, had been raised from 36 to 42 cents a pound.
The extended use, while later in English, is the original meaning of the Romanian and Turkish words; in the Balkans, pastrami has always been made of any of a number of pressed and preserved meats, rather than being limited specifically to beef.]
Highly seasoned smoked beef, usually served in thin slices; (as count noun) a serving of this, esp. as a filling in a sandwich. Later also in extended use: other meat or fish prepared in a similar manner.
1916 Syracuse (N.Y.) Herald 16 Jan. 5/5 Even so, Zapp, there’s lots of fellers in the delicatessen business which is obliged to run automobile deliveries, and for every penny they’ve got to pay more on gasoline, they stick two cents a pound on pastrami oder Frankfurters.
1920 N.Y. Tribune 31 Jan. 12/5, I would have..said: ‘Give me ten cents pastrami,’ so as not to let on that I suspected something.
1945 A. KOBER Parm Me 110 Mr. Freidkin was..eating a plate of pastrami and eggs.
1973 New Yorker 24 Feb. 114/2 The sandwich makers at the counter always maintain rigid queue discipline while hand-slicing a high-quality pastrami on rye.
2 April 1909, Paducah (KY) Evening SUn, pg. 4, col. 7 ad:page 4, advertisement at top right of page for “The Ideal Meat Market.”
Specialties from Wm. Goldstein Kosher Sausage Co., St. Louis, Mo.
Somthing new in the Kosher line such as meats, sausages, tongues, and other goods.
Pastroma Spiced Beef, cooked
(The Ideal Meat Market—ed.)
Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project
22 May 1914, Jewish Criterion, pg. 10 ad:
How to Feed Friends and Influence People:
The Carnegie Deli
A Giant Sandwich, A Little Deli, A Huge Success
by Milton Parker (Owner of the Carnegie Deli) and Allyn Freeman
Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons
Pg. 59: DELI SLANG