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Oct 14, 2009 12:43 PM

NPR story on why ordering pastrami on white bread is a mortal sin

After many, many spirited discussions on the Los Angeles board about the proper way to order a pastrami sandwich, NPR has chimed in.

Some of the original threads I'm referring to:

Mr Taster

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  1. Great piece. Heard it yesterday on the drive home. And today I have this uncanny craving for a pastrami sandwich on rye...

    2 Replies
      1. re: coney with everything

        Thanks for the link, CWE. Criminal that high-rye-percentage, twice-baked, is not the standard everywhere, much less at Jewish delis, outside the Detroit area!

    1. Unfortunately I can't send that link to my daughter because, as a kid, she used to eat corned beef on white with mayo. I don't think she's ever really forgiven me for the hard time I gave her back then. :o)

      But the overall problem is real. We live in an LA metro suburban area with over a half million people within about 15 square miles and the best we can do is a Tommy Pastrami franchise. A little farther away is a Jerry's deli (don't get the LA people started).
      There is a rather significant Jewish population here too (as well as lots of other transplanted New Yorkers, etc.), so I've just never understood why we can't sustain that particular ethnic cuisine. Disappointing to say the least.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Midlife

        You can get a very fine pastrami sandwich at Langer's.

        1. re: embee

          Very much aware of that. Langer's is the best I've had in the LA metro (apologies to Brent's fans), even on a par with NYC deli.

          Do you know how long it takes to get to 7th and Alvarado from San Clemente? I believe in destination dining, but that's a bit much.

          Orange County has Katella Deli and Benjie's, but not much more that comes close to worth the drive.

      2. i'm so confused. someone help me.

        i listened to this piece. . . i don't know wtf the guy is talking about with the speck sandwich that killed his relative. speck is ham. there is an austro-german speck and an italian speck, but both are *pork*, not beef, not "from the area around the brisket", pork. non-kosher. . . pig-piggy, pork. speck would be nowhere near a kosher jewish deli. . . or, is there another kind of non-porky speck unrelated to porky speck? am i nuts? because it's like saying his relative died from a kosher sandwich with extra bacon and prosciutto---- HUH?!?

        6 Replies
        1. re: soupkitten

          In order for this to make sense you have to put it in perspective. In the old countries and small traditional villages in eastern Europe where Jews were from (think "Fiddler on the Roof"), the food was a product of not just Judaism (i.e. no pork, no milk with meat, etc.) but the product of the greater culture. Lots of foods were made as Jewish/kosher versions of the non-kosher version found in the gentile society. So where Germans would use pork fat in their knodlen (dumplings), Jewish would use rendered chicken fat (schmaltz) in their kneidels (dumplings made with matzo meal). In fact even some of the words were the same... my mom used to spread schmaltz on toast like butter. In Poland, they spread pork fat (smalitz) on their bread. It's the same food ideas interpreted through the prism of a different culture. I'm sure that in the case of speck we're looking at the same thing.

          Mr Taster

          1. re: Mr Taster

            thanks. i follow you to an extent, but speck is a cured ham (not very fatty, similar to prosciutto) from the leg of the pig, and the fellow on npr said that speck is almost pure fat from "the area of the brisket" on a cow. it doesn't sound like it's a cultural translation of a similar product like schmaltz/smalitz, which i understand. if someone could link any reference to a non-pork or kosher "speck" i would be very grateful, or if there is anyone who has personal memories of eating/cooking with non-pork speck? i have just never heard of it and am interested in what he could be talking about.

            1. re: soupkitten

              In many kosher circles, meat found below the 12th rib is considered unkosher. Even on kosher animals, that would eliminate any leg meat from the picture so you'd make do with the meats which were considered kosher (that's a big reason why brisket is the de-facto cut of beef in a lot of Jewish cookery).

              Mr Taster

              1. re: Mr Taster

                a good point, indeed. but doing a quick "kosher speck" search on google turned up nothing-- well, it turned up some recipes that advised subbing pancetta or bacon.

                i guess i am looking to find the actual item the guy on npr described, and less about what this item would be in theory. i want to find a solid reference or picture or the actual piece of meat he refers to, or someone else who's eaten this same deadly sandwich full of beef fat :)

          2. re: soupkitten

            The family legend may be just that, but the speck is (was) for real. A cured, spiced, smoked fat sandwich.

            The speck to which David Sax referred on NPR, at Schwartz deli in Montreal, was beef fat trimmed from their briskets. There is no connection to piggy speck other than the name.

            Schwartz hasn't been kosher in decades, but kosher delis had it also. It was somewhat (though certainly not wildly) popular when I lived in Montreal in the sixties. Schwartz was the last place to include it on their menu. They stopped making it because people stopped eating it. Gotta wonder why :-)

            1. re: embee

              thanks for this response! it really helps to clear up this mystery speck problem for me. kinda bums me out that someone isn't out there making pure beef fat "speck," though-- but it makes a great family legend. wonder if beefy speck ever was widespread outside of montreal, or who came up w it in the first place.

          3. Given the subject matter, shouldn't that read "pastrami on white is a shanda," not a mortal sin?

            4 Replies
            1. re: BobB

              Indeed, but Chowhound does not have a homogenized Semitic readership... "Shonda" is not as universally understood as "mortal sin". I was going wide.

              Mr Taster

              1. re: Mr Taster

                By me bist doo shame. Yiddish seems to have many different words for different kinds of shame; something like the Eskimos' 57 words for snow. Shanda means to me a scandalous embarassment; nothing to do with sin, unless the source of the shame is a sin which carries through in the word, I don't think that this is the case. But I may be wrong.

                1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi

                  Linguistically you are correct, but I wasn't trying to translate sin into Yiddish, I was just using what I felt would be the appropriate word, and shanda (scandalous embarrassment, as you say) strikes me as quite appropriate for pastrami on white. It doesn't reach the level of sin (khet in Yiddish) unless you add mayonnaise. ;-)