14/365: National Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day

It’s National Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day, which is nice because it’s cold out. And it’s snowing. A tasty, hot sandwich at lunchtime is just the ticket! And besides, who doesn’t love pastrami?

Well, other than Tara, who is proving to be a much pickier eater than I’d ever imagined. But she’s being a good sport about it, and dutifully trying at least one bite of everything we have. That’s all I can ask for!

Originating just a stone’s throw from Dracula’s castle and named after the Romanian word a păstra – which means “preserve” – pastrami was created as a method of preserving meat. There were no refrigerators back then, and Transylvanian folk didn’t want all that wonderful pork and mutton to go to waste, so they cured the meat by brining it, drying it, seasoning it with herbs and spices, smoking it, and then steaming it. Pastrami was introduced to the U.S. in the late 19th century following a wave of Romanian Jewish immigration to New York. The original English spelling, pastrama, was changed to pastrami in order to rhyme with salami, making it easier for American consumers to remember (and paving the way for the chart-topping 1892 rap hit, “(You Gotta) Fight For A Bite (Of Pastrami),” which famously paired verses about salami and pastrami with Tommy’s mommy, a Swami who survived a tsunami and married a commie).  Because beef was cheap, they started using that instead.

A butcher named Sussman Volk claimed to have created the first pastrami sandwich in 1887 after inheriting the recipe from a Romanian friend whose luggage he was storing while the man was out of the country. Volk’s pastrami sandwich was so popular he turned his butcher shop into a restaurant. Not so fast, say the folks at Katz’s Delicatessen, which opened in 1888 and is renowned for their pastrami sandwiches (and also Meg Ryan’s famous fake-orgasm “I’ll have what she’s having” scene in When Harry Met Sally). They take credit for the sandwich. No word on whether they duked it out or decided to split the royalties, but pastrami remains a popular sandwich to this day.

Although, to be honest, it proved a little tricky to find. Neither Subway nor Quizno’s has pastrami on their menu. Luckily, a local cheesesteak joint called Philly Bilmo’s does. Go figure. I ordered the Hot Pastrami and Swiss, with pickles and sauerkraut. What can I say? It was delicious! Hot and salty and flavorful. The pastrami brine is typically made with garlic, coriander, paprika, black pepper, cloves, allspice, and mustard seed, and I swear I could taste each of those ingredients in every bite. Tara took a taste, wrinkled her nose, and went back to her hot dog. That’s okay – I loved the sandwich enough for the both of us.

Hot Pastrami Sandwich


Categories: Beef | Tags: , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “14/365: National Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day

  1. SoCalGal

    If you ever come down this way to visit your brother, you must eat a pastrami from one or both of our local places, “The Hat”, or “Stuffed Sandwich”. Can’t beat their pastrami sandwiches. I’m enjoying this journey of yours and have learned a thing or two, or three!


  2. Esther

    I might have to go to The Hat for one of those, I’ve been craving one!


  3. mom

    Looks yummy-but I’ll take their cheese steak anytime! And they even have tastycakes!


    • It seemed like a crime not to order a cheesesteak…until I took a bite of the pastrami. One of the best I’ve ever had, hands down. I thought about picking up some Tastycakes, but we have enough sweet challenges to worry about this year.


  4. Momma Tracy

    I often wonder if Pastrami is a man-thing. David likes it fine but moi? I could take it or leave it. I have to admit…it does look delicious!!


    • It’s only a man thing if it’s served by a scantily clad woman. Otherwise, I’d say pastrami is universally beloved! Except by my girlfriend and her mom, apparently. 😉


  5. I wish I knew you guys earlier! At Katz you can mail Pastrami to people across the country!


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