The Origin of Pastrami
At Delirama, we are a California deli with East Coast and Midwestern influence. We make all of our rye bread, italian rolls, bagels & bialys by hand. Our number one goal is to nourish you with a smile. Our restaurant is our home and we strive to treat every customer like family (even if you don’t like pastrami).
Here is a brief self-researched history on some of the foods we make at Delirama.
*Disclaimer: By no means are we food historians or experts of the origins of pastrami and other deli foods.*
The History of Pastrami
The Story of pastrami as we know it today has slight variations but what we’ve come to gather is this:
The birthplace of the pastrami we know today is widely credited to Romanian Immigrants, specifically Romanian Jews, who settled in New York sometime in the late 1800s.
Pastrami originates from pastirma (aka basturma) developed by the Ottoman Turks, who dried and cured meat as a method of preservation, according to The Artisan Jewish Deli At Home. This was very different from the juicy pastrami we have in sandwiches. Rather, it had a similar consistency to jerky. This Ottoman Turkish recipe migrated to Eastern Europe, and the Romanians innovated pastrama, cured, spiced, and smoked goose meat. STLjewishlight.org writes, “Food historians are clear- there was no pastrami in Europe, but there was pastrama, a tough beef jerky-like Romanian dried meat, which might sound like pastrami but is very different.”
During the late 1800s, Romanian Jewish Immigrants who settled in Manhattan’s Lower East Side brought goose pastrama and adapted to beef, specifically navel cut, as it was more readily available. The process was slowed with refrigeration, then smoked, and then rehydrated by steam, boil, or braise (https://stljewishlight.org/top-story/where-does-pastrami-really-come-from).
How the name switched from pastrama to pastrami, is somewhat of a mystery. In reference to Sherman’s article “Pastrami Everything” on tastecooking.com, the author brings attention to a theory that the name was switched as it rhymed with salami, which was sold in the same delicatessans.
However, there is some back and forth with how pastrami actually began being sold- but two names come to the surface: Katz’s Deli and Sussman Volk. They both are commonly credited to have begun selling modernized pastrami. The story is quite interesting and you can read more about the speculations on who was the “first” here.
The new form of cured meat emerged in the American Market in the 1890s. “The origins of the Jewish delis we love today started in the mid-1800s by first- and second-generation German immigrants, some Jewish and some not. They opened storefronts as a way to make a living and provide food from back home to other immigrants. Many of them were inspired by German Delikatessens, stores that sold delicacies like beef frankfurters, sauerkraut, liverwurst, cold cuts, and dill pickles. When Yiddish-speaking Jews came to the U.S. and opened up similar stores, they added pastrami and corned beef and made sure everything was kosher. But it wasn’t until the 1920s when these places became more than just storefronts” (https://www.delish.com/food-news/a41832511/nyc-jewish-deli/).
The deli, pastrami, and all good food have one thing in common: community. The Jewish delicatessen and all delis are a space of safety, comfort, and nourishment. Although Delirama is not a Jewish deli, we are honored to be a very small part of a story of delicatessens that highlights doing everything from scratch and feeding our customers: our friends, family, and community members. We thank the Romanian Jewish immigrants that brought pastrama to the United States and we thank the many Jewish kosher, kosher-style, German, and all delis that paved the path for us today.
Marcus Eli Ravage's 1917 book, An American in the Making: The Life Story of an Immigrant
The Artisan Jewish Deli by Nick Zukin and Michael Zusman