New York created pastrami and now along with pizza, cheesecake, hamburgers, hot dogs and bagels, pastrami is one of the iconic foods of the City, something all tourists want to taste and something of which NYC is very proud. Now its place in NYC’s food offerings is threatened by an unprecedented pastrami shortage, that to all lovers of this New York meat, is something akin to a national disaster. Can NYC survive without it’s pastrami?
It’s all been caused by an increasing demand for beef around the world, the impact of droughts and a series of diseases that have hit the meat industry. So current beef prices are now 90% of what they were 10 years ago and still continuously rising. All this ironic as it is the exact opposite of the reason why pastrami came into being in the first place.
Poor East European Jewish and German immigrants were delighted to discover how plentiful and cheap beef was when they came to NYC from the middle of the 19th Century onwards. It was expensive in their native countries but they had already mastered techniques for taking advantage of the cheaper tough and fatty cut from the breast of beef cattle called brisket. They slow cooked it in brine which produced corned beef and then later they experimented with smoking and spicing it eventually producing an origianl NYC product, pastrami.
There is endless debate on how to cut it, by hand or machine, the best way to do all the pickling smoking and spicing, what bread to serve it on and how to serve it. The classic Katz’s Deli pastrami sandwich has a heaping serve of pastrami on rye bread spread with mustard and you get a choice of sour, half sour or pickled green taomatoes to go with it. So high is the pastrami piled that there is an art to eating it, see the video and you will get the idea.
Realistically, right now, beef in some parts America is becoming a luxury meat. There are price increases for all meat but nothing as high as the price rises in beef. In Manhattan so far prices for a pastrami sandwich are going up steadily and so far the natives and the tourists are still paying up. But in the outer boroughs bar owners, who have been trying to hold the price down for their less well off customers, are starting to put out sign apologizing for the price increases and wondering at what point it will become uneconomic for them to offer it except at high Manhattan prices.
In the antion generally, pork and veal are being eaten a little less, but the drop off in the use of beef in cheaper food items is severe. Chicken is becoming the meat of choice as it is still comparatively cheap. However it is impossible to imagine NYC without some pastrami being offered but perhaps it will become like France’s truffles, so rare that you expect to pay a fortune to get a taste.