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What Is Pastrami?
Credit: Raw meat photo via Shutterstock

A popular menu item at delis and restaurants in North America, pastrami is a brisket (or other cut) of beef that has been cured in a mixture of sugar, spices and garlic and then smoked before cooking. While many people associate this savory meat with their favorite New York-style deli, the recipe for pastrami actually originated in southeastern Europe.

"Pastirma" (Turkish for pastrami) is believed to have first been cooked up in Kayseri, a town in the east of Turkey, during the rise of the Ottoman Empire (between the 13th and 15th centuries). Legend has it the horsemen of that region preserved their meat by curing it and then hanging it down from their saddles and pressing on it with their legs as they rode. "Pastirma," as it turns out, is derived from the Turkish word "bastirmak," which means "to press."

Pastirma eventually spread with the Ottomans to Europe, where it became particularly popular with Jewish communities in countries like Armenia and Romania. However, while traditional Turkish pastirma was made with pork or mutton, Jewish cooks prepared the dish with beef to keep within Kosher laws.

When European Jews began immigrating en masse to the United States in the later half of the nineteenth century, they brought pastirma with them. It's speculated that the name "pastrami"—which wasn't used until the meat got to the U.S.— was adopted to make the product sound similar to "salami," which was already a popular deli meat at the time. [Top Meats That Can Make You Sick]

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