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Slices of pastrami
Pastrami sandwich at the Carnegie Deli

Pastrami (Romanian: pastramă, Yiddish: פּאַסטראָמע pastróme) is a popular delicatessen meat usually made from beef, and sometimes from pork, mutton or turkey. The raw meat is brined, partially dried, seasoned with various 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 modern refrigeration.

Etymology and origin[edit]

The word “pastrami” was borrowed from the Turkish pastırma,[1][2][3] though the dishes themselves have diverged. Some sources claim an etymology from Romanian a păstra, “to preserve”.[4]

The Romanian specialty was introduced to the United States in a wave of Romanian Jewish immigration from Bessarabia and Romania in the second half of the 19th century, via the Yiddish: פּאַסטראָמע (pronounced pastróme). Early references in English used the spelling “pastrama”, closer to the Romanian original. The modified “pastrami” spelling was probably introduced in imitation of the Italian salami.[5]

New York’s Sussman Volk is generally credited with producing the first pastrami sandwich 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.[6]

Romanian Jews emigrated 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 beef pastrami.

The Oxford English Dictionary’s Etymology of pastrami, n.[7] quotes a 1914 advertisement from the Jewish Criterion (Pittsburgh)

Sardines and pimentos‥.Pastrami‥. Rye bread [etc.]

Preparation and serving[edit]

Pastrami pizza

Traditional New York pastrami is made from the navel end of the brisket.[8] It is cured in brine, coated with a mix of spices such as garlic, coriander, black pepper, paprika, cloves, allspice, and mustard seed,[9][10] and then smoked. Finally, the meat is steamed until the connective tissues within the meat break down into gelatin.

In North America, pastrami is typically sliced and served hot on rye bread, a classic New York deli sandwich (pastrami on rye), sometimes accompanied by coleslaw and Russian dressing. Pastrami and coleslaw are also combined in a Rachel sandwich, a variation of the popular Reuben sandwich that traditionally uses corned beef and sauerkraut.

In Los Angeles, classic pastrami sandwiches usually use hot pastrami right out of the steamer, sliced and layered on double-baked Jewish-style rye bread. Typically, the meat is served sliced very thinly, with some of the brine wetting the meat; traditionally accompanied by yellow mustard and pickles. At fast food stands, pastrami is typically served hot on a French roll. Pastrami may also be used as a topping on hamburgers.

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.[11]


Turkey pastrami is made by processing turkey breast (pale pink) or thigh (dark pink) in a fashion similar to red-meat pastrami, in an effort to simulate the red-meat deli product.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd Edition, 2005, s.v. 'pastrami'
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Dicţionarul explicativ al limbii române, Entry for Pastramă
  4. ^ Pastrami. Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 11th Edition. Retrieved 2 August 2012 from website:
  5. ^ Harry G. Levine, "Pastrami Land, the Jewish Deli in New York City", Contexts, Summer 2007, p. 68
  6. ^ Henry Moscow, "The Book of New York Firsts", [2], p. 123
  7. ^ pastrami, n. Third edition, October 2008; online version November 2010
  8. ^ Gil Marks, "Encyclopedia of Jewish Food"
  9. ^ "Pastrami rub": seasoning for pastrami
  10. ^ Pastrami seasoning mix
  11. ^ Edge, John T. "Pastrami Meets the Patty in Utah" New York Times (July 28, 2009)
Further reading