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Slices of pastrami
Pastrami sandwich at the Carnegie Deli in New York City.

Pastrami (Turkish: pastırma, Romanian: pastramă, Bulgarian: пастърма) is a meat product usually made from beef, and sometimes from pork, mutton or turkey. The raw meat is brined, partially dried, seasoned with herbs and spices, then smoked and steamed. In the United States, although beef plate is the traditional cut of meat for making pastrami, it is now common to see it made from beef brisket, beef round, and turkey. Like corned beef, pastrami was originally created as a way to preserve meat before refrigeration.

Etymology and origin

The name pastrami comes from Romanian pastramă, which in turn comes from Greek παστραμάς/παστουρμάς, itself borrowed from Turkish pastırma.[1][2][3][4] The Turkish name comes from the Turkish: bastırma et 'pressed meat'.[5][6]

Wind-dried beef had been made in Anatolia for centuries, and Byzantine dried meat is probably "one of the forerunners of the pastirma of modern Turkey".[7]

Early references in English used the spelling “pastrama”, closer to the Romanian pastramă. Pastrami was introduced to the United States in a wave of Jewish immigration from Bessarabia and Romania in the second half of the 19th century.[8] The modified “pastrami” spelling was probably introduced in imitation of the American English salami.[9] Romanian Jews immigrated to New York as early as 1872. Among Jewish Romanians, goose breasts were commonly made into pastrami because they were inexpensive. Beef navels were cheaper than goose meat in America, so the Romanian Jews in America adapted their recipe and began to make the cheaper-alternative beef pastrami.[10]

New York’s Sussman Volk is generally credited with producing the first pastrami sandwich in the US in 1887. Volk, a kosher butcher and New York immigrant from Lithuania, claimed he got the recipe from a Romanian friend in exchange for storing the friend’s luggage while the friend returned to Romania. According to his descendant, Patricia Volk, Volk prepared pastrami according to the recipe and served it on sandwiches out of his butcher shop. The sandwich was so popular that Volk converted the butcher shop into a restaurant to sell pastrami sandwiches.[11]

Preparation and serving

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Pastrami pizza

New York pastrami is generally made from the navel end of the brisket.[12] It is cured in brine, coated with a mix of spices such as garlic, coriander, black pepper, paprika, cloves, allspice, and mustard seed,[13][14] and then smoked. Finally, the meat is steamed until the connective tissues within the meat break down into gelatin.

Israeli Pastrami sandwich, made with pita bread, harissa, and roasted peppers

Greek immigrants to Salt Lake City in the early 1960s introduced a hamburger topped with pastrami and a special sauce. The pastrami burger has remained a staple of local burger chains in Utah.[15]

See also


  1. Dicţionarul explicativ al limbii române, Entry for Pastramă
  2. Babiniotis, Λεξικό της Νεας Ελληνικής Γλώσσας
  3. Andriotis et al., Λεξικό της κοινής νεοελληνικής
  4. Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd Edition, 2005, s.v. 'pastrami'
  5. Turkish Etymology
  6. It is sometimes claimed that the name pastirma comes from Greek παστρον 'dried meat'; see the etymology section of pastırma
  7. Andrew Dalby, Siren Feasts, p. 189
  8. [1]
  9. Harry G. Levine, "Pastrami Land, a Deli in New York City", Contexts, Summer 2007, p. 68
  10. Historical Fact / The Origins of Pastrami, Jewish Heritage in Romania - Romania Tourism, retrieved on 31 Aug. 2015 "Goose-pastrama" was the starting point for American pastrami. The Jewish immigrants who settled in Little Romania brought with them a traditional technique for preserving goose by salting, seasoning, and smoking the meat. In America, however, beef was cheaper and more widely available than goose, so pastrama was made with beef brisket instead. Later the name became pastrami—perhaps because it rhymed with "salami" and was sold in the same delicatessens. By the time Little Romania dispersed in the 1940s, New Yorkers from every ethnic background were claiming expertly sliced pastrami as their rightful heritage
  11. Henry Moscow, "The Book of New York Firsts", [2], p. 123
  12. Gil Marks, "Encyclopedia of Jewish Food"
  13. "Pastrami rub": seasoning for pastrami
  14. Pastrami seasoning mix Archived December 2, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  15. Edge, John T. "Pastrami Meets the Patty in Utah" New York Times (July 28, 2009)
Further reading