In New York City, pastrami is synonymous with deli sandwiches layered with smoky, spiced meat on rye. But the origins of cured and spiced beef dishes like pastrami trace much farther back and across continents.
Various cultures put their own spin on seasoning, cooking and serving beef in different forms.
Exploring international pastrami variants offers insight into how customizable and widespread charcuterie techniques developed across borders. Here’s a tour around the world of pastrami sandwich inspirations:
Pastrami’s roots trace to Romania, where the cured beef product pastrama has been made for centuries. Records show pastrama production as early as the 1700s in Moldavia region.
Romanian pastrama starts with a whole beef navel, which is salt-cured then smoked slowly over wood before being air-dried. Spices like garlic, pepper, fenugreek, and coriander add seasoning.
The result is very lean, dry, smoked meat similar to bresaola. Pastrama is served thinly sliced as an appetizer. Turks invading Romania likely brought pastrama recipes back to Turkey.
In Turkey, cured beef evolved into pastirma, seasoned with fenugreek, cumin, garlic, and chili peppers. After air-drying, it is pressed under great weights to compact the meat before slicing very thin.
Pastirma often tops Turkish breakfast plates, alongside cheeses, olives, and eggs. It’s also used in wraps, fried rice dishes, pizzas, and pastirma sandwiches.
These feature the pastirma layered on bread or a bun, with peppers, tomatoes, onion and garlic yogurt.
Egyptians transformed Turkish pastirma into basturma using their native spices. Egyptian basturma uses coriander, onion, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, and lemon zest on beef flank, which is sun-dried after curing.
In Egypt, basturma is served grilled, fried, or in sandwiches. One traditional Egyptian street food is basturma cooked into taameya sandwiches with pickled vegetables, tahini, and hot sauce. The basturma adds signature savory, salty flavor.
Lebanon – Bastirma
Lebanese bastirma shares roots with Egyptian basturma but Lebanese recipes add fenugreek, oregano, and sometimes wine.
After the spiced cured meat is pressed with heavy stones, it is smoked briefly and aged. Bastirma sandwiches are popular street food in Lebanon.
Bastirma is served on fresh pita or wraps called manaeesh, with hummus, tomato, onion, pickles, and tahini sauce. The mix of rich spiced meat, creamy tahini, and bright vegetables is hard to beat.
Iranian-style bastani pastrami uses beetroot juice in the curing process to give the meat deep ruby tones. Seasonings like cinnamon, coriander, fenugreek, ginger, and garlic add warming spice notes.
After curing and smoking, bastani is dried, pressed, and aged before thinly slicing. It often tops classic Persian dishes like fesenjan stew and sabzi polo rice. For sandwiches, bastani is served wrapped in flatbread with pickles, fresh herbs, and chili sauce.
While not pastrami, Mexican torta ahogada sandwiches demonstrate how cured beef can be served sandwich style with spicy flavor. Torta ahogada means “drowned sandwich” – the bread is dipped in spicy arbol chile sauce, which soaks into the roll.
Fillings include Carnitas (braised pork), chorizo, or beef Milanesa cutlet. Tomato, avocado, onion, cilantro add freshness against the spicy, salty meat. It’s a delicious street food in Guadalajara, satisfying yet dangerously spicy!
Though not beef, shawarma’s role as a Middle Eastern street food staple warrants a mention. Thin slices of marinated lamb, chicken, turkey, or veal stack on a vertical rotisserie, roasting slowly.
Shawarma sandwiches wrap the hot carved meat, tahini or hummus, pickles, fried eggplant, French fries, and vegetables in pita or flatbread.
The mélange of proteins and garnishes in these sandwiches offer inspiration for multifaceted pastrami sandwiches.
United States – French Dip
French dip sandwiches can be considered a non-pastrami, all-American riff on lavish deli meat sandwiches. Thin slices of roast beef are piled into a baguette and “dipped” into beef au jus gravy for moisture.
The beefy, salty, rich elements draw parallels to a juicy pastrami sandwich. Regional US variations include Provolone cheese, spicy peppers, or caramelized onions as additions that complement the meat.
From Romania through the Middle East and beyond, spiced cured beef has been perfected into local specialties. While pastrami’s roots trace to Romania, global culinary exchanges allowed those recipes to evolve based on culture, region, and taste.
Comparing these sandwiches worldwide shows how versatile and customizable charcuterie techniques can become. Hungry travelers now have even more globally inspired pastrami sandwiches to sample thanks to centuries of transcontinental culinary innovation.