NYPL Exhibitions

Pastrami

Little Romania in lower Manhattan was a neighborhood within a neighborhood, tucked into the blocks bound by East Houston Street, Allen Street, Grand Street, and the Bowery. When the Romanian-born writer Marcus Ravage arrived in New York in 1900, he found the area thriving; restaurants had opened everywhere, he recalled in a memoir, and the first Romanian delicatessens were displaying “goose-pastrama and kegs of ripe olives.”

“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.