Food Nation

A Repast With a Rich Past: The Hot Pastrami Sandwich

If you grew up in a delicatessen desert, as I did, then you're probably familiar with the feeling of complete abject ignorance you experience when forced to choose between different cold-cut sandwiches. Up until my early twenties, I could differentiate pretty much only ham, turkey, and bologna, because, well, that's all I was eating.

A series of urban migrations forced me out of my cold-cut rut, thank God, and suddenly I found myself in a world of sopressata, pimento loaf, mortadella, bresola, and salami. When I finally tried pastrami in the form of a hot sandwich at Katz's Delicatessen in New York City, my head sort of exploded.

I had associated deli meat sandwiches with bland lunches and unimaginative picnic menus, but now I knew a pile of seasoned meat in between two slices of bread (and just a hint of mayo or mustard) could taste absolutely amazing.

The hot pastrami sandwich was born out of New York's nineteenth-century immigrant Romanian Jewish communities, where cheap cuts of goose and beef were brined and seasoned to resemble a traditional dish of the homeland known as "pastrama." Sussman Volk (whose eponymous grandson also was a highly successful NYC restauranteur) supposedly began serving the city's first hot pastrami sandwiches in the early 1890s. The hot pastrami craze took off, and today this sandwich remains an iconic delicatessen favorite.

National Hot Pastrami Day is this Tuesday, January 14th, and to celebrate, I suggest you make your own.

Wait, when would I ever suggest that as the first option? Certainly not when Kenny & Ziggy's will do the work for me. K&Z's hot pastrami is not cheap at $22, but you get a huge sandwich and leftovers for lunch the next day or more than enough for you and a roommate to split. Though I, for one, am not willing to share.