History and etymology
There are various stories about the origin of pastırma, none well documented. For the historians of the ancient and medieval world however it seems to be clear that cured meat has been made in Anatolia for centuries, since at least the Byzantine period, and called apokt. One story gives its origins as the city of Kayseri, where there was a Byzantine dish called pastón, which would be translated as "salted meat" and was apparently eaten both raw and cooked in stews. Some authors claim that the medieval to modern production of pastirma in the cuisine of the Ottoman Empire is an extension of that older tradition.
Accordingly it has been claimed that also the word pastırma is related to the earlier Byzantine Greek παστόν (pastón), but standard Greek dictionaries do not assert this connection and gloss pastón simply as "salted (meat)". The word has thereupon been borrowed into other languages of the region: Albanian: pastërma, Arabic: بسطرمة (basṭirma), Armenian: բաստուրմա (basturma), Azerbaijani: bastırma, Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian pastrma, Bulgarian: пастърма (pastărma), Greek: παστουρμάς (pastourmás), Hebrew: פסטרמה (pastrama) and Romanian: pastrámă. The American cured meat product pastrami has its origins in pastirma via Yiddish: פאסטראמא pastrama.
Preparation and usage
Pastırma is prepared by salting the meat, then washing it with water and letting it dry for ten to 15 days. After that the blood and salt is squeezed out of the meat which is then covered with a cumin paste called çemen (lit. "fenugreek") prepared with crushed cumin, fenugreek, garlic, and hot paprika, followed by thorough air-drying. Even though beef is the most common meat today, various meats are also used depending on locality, including camel, lamb, goat, and water buffalo.
The Armenians introduced pastırma to Syria and Lebanon in great quantities, and it is usually served as a meze in thin slices, usually uncooked, but sometimes lightly grilled or added to eggs for breakfast. It may be added to different dishes, the most famous of which is a bean dish, and various pies. The traditional Armenian pastirma strictly uses beef as the meat and this remains as the most common usage.
In Turkey, where it is eaten as a breakfast with eggs and as a meze with rakı, there are more than 22 kinds of pastırma. The version from Central Anatolia, often called Kayseri pastırması, is the one most common. The less-common Rumeli pastırması "Balkan pastırma", is simply salted and dried.
In Iraq, pastırma (basturma) is used for breakfast, with fried eggs, and it is usually prepared by butchers . In Egypt, it is used for breakfast. It is also used as a topping for pizza, and a filling for a variety of oven prepared stuff dough dishes, whether they are made from regular bread-like dough, or a flaky multilayered puff pastry-like dough.
- Sami Zubaida, Richard Tapper, Claudia Roden: A Taste of Thyme. Culinary cultures of the Middle East. Tauris, London and New York 1994, p. 35 & 39.
- Andrew Dalby, Tastes of Byzantium. The Cuisine of a Legendary Empire. Tauris, London and New York 2010, p. 63, 71.
- David Underwood, Irina Petrosian: Armenian food. Fact, fiction & folklore. Second edition. Yerkir, Bloomington/IN 2006, p. 112f. ISBN 9781411698659. Access date 25 May 2016. “In Byzantine times, the city was called Caesarea Mazaca. There and throughout Byzantium, the technique called pastron [sic!] was an accepted salt-curing tradition. Turks reintroduced pastron as pastirma.” The authors may be thinking of Ancient Greek παστός; cf. also Modern Greek παστός.
- Bruce Kraig: Turkish American food. In: Andrew F. Smith (ed.): The Oxford encyclopedia of food and drink in America. Second edition. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2013, p. 502. Access date 25 May 2016. “When the Ottomans settled in Istanbul they also adopted a number of Byzantine dishes, one of which was a form of cured beef called paston and which the Turks called pastirma […] It became and remains a specialty of Kayseri in Cappadocia in west central Turkey.”
- Ilias Anagnostakis: Flavours and Delights. Tastes and Pleasures of Ancient and Byzantine Cuisine. Armós, Athens 2013, p. 81. Access date 25 May 2016. “[…] paston or tarichon […] Cured meats were either eaten raw or cooked in pasto-mageireia with bulgur and greens, mainly cabbage.”
- Clifford A. Wright: A Mediterranean feast. The story of the birth of celebrated cuisines of the Mediterranean, from the merchants of Venice to the Barbary Corsairs, with more than 500 recipes. Morrow, New York 1999, p. 742. ISBN 9780688153052. Access date 25 January 2013. “Cheese, horek, and pastirma were all known to the Byzantines […]”.
- John Ash: A Byzantine journey. Second edition. Tauris Parke Paperbacks, London 2006. ISBN 9781845113070. Access date 25 May 2016. “Having inherited pastirma from the Byzantines, the Turks took it with them when they conquered Hungary and Romania […]”
- David Sax: Save the deli. In search of perfect pastrami, crusty rye, and the heart of Jewish delicatessen. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston/MA 2009, p. 25. ISBN 9780151013845. Access date 25 January 2013. “Its origins, which may date back as far as Byzantium, can be found in Turkey, where basturma was a form of pressing spiced meat.”
- Alan Davidson: The Oxford companion to food. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2014, p. 123. Access date 21 October 2014. “This is certainly true of Byzantine cuisine. Dried meat, a forerunner of the pastirma of modern Turkey, became a delicacy.”
- Cf. Babiniotis, Λεξικό της Νεας Ελληνικής Γλώσσας; Andriotis et al., Λεξικό της κοινής νεοελληνικής.
- In E. A. Sophocles, Greek Lexicon of the Roman and Byzantine Periods, 1900,παστός is defined as "salted" (as applied to meat).
- Harry G. Levine, Pastrami Land, the Jewish Deli in New York City, in: Contexts, Summer 2007, p. 68. “The modified ‘pastrami’ spelling was probably introduced in imitation of the American English salami.”
- Maria Kaneva-Johnson: The Melting Pot. Balkan Food and Cookery. Prospect Books, 1995. ISBN 0-907325-57-2. p. 62
- Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press, Oxford 1999. ISBN 0-19-211579-0.
- Maria Kaneva-Johnson, The Melting Pot. Balkan Food and Cookery, Prospect Books, 1995. ISBN 0-907325-57-2.
- Media related to Pastirma at Wikimedia Commons