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Apr 29, 2014 01:15 PM

Zaftig's a question.

Will be attending my niece's graduation at the end of May. We will be having dinner here one night. On their menu they distinguish between pastrami and Roumanian pastrami. Can someone explain the difference? Growing up in NY, we only had one type and it was called pastrami.

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  1. Coming from New York as well I don't have an answer. I'd be just as confused as you are; all my life I've only seen "pastrami" on menus, in NY/NJ, and elsewhere.

    Of course, all pastrami came to us via Romanian Jews in the late 19th century; the word "pastrama", from which we get pastrami, refers more to a technique than to the meat itself. It started out as a method of preserving goose. So theoretically, all menus could say "Romanian Pastrami", yet they don't.

    As far as Zaftig's menu item, it may be a difference in preparation, maybe a difference in what type of meat or just a different cut, or it could be a difference in spices. There might be more garlic, or maybe a sweeter note; I'd definitely ask Zaftig's what they mean.

    5 Replies
    1. re: mcsheridan

      Called Zaftig's and found out that Romanian pastrami is their own creation. It is regular pastrami with a honey / mustard glaze. Does not sound like something a pastrami eating New Yorker would enjoy.

      1. re: rsanders99

        Eeeeeuuuuwwww. You are So Right!

        Gimme that old-time Pastrami, on Rye, with Mustard. I will accept No Substitutes.

        1. re: rsanders99

          They call it pastrami but, I'd pass. That's an item you can't mess with.

        2. re: mcsheridan

          The etymology and travel history of food is always fascinating. Pastrami probably morphed from turkish bastima or pastima which is air dried beef. After the ottomans conquered Romania the guess is the Romanians adapted it and the rumanian Jews brought their version here.

        3. I once lived near Coolidge Corner and recall seeing "Roumanian" pastrami in the neighborhood well before there ever was a Zaftig's (a place I don't think very highly of).

          For once, my memory didn't just make stuff up. According to this old blog post, Rubin's Kosher Deli (another place I don't think very highly of) has been doing it for a long time:

          It does not sound good. I wonder: is this an invention of Brookline delis, or does it exist elsewhere?

          5 Replies
          1. re: MC Slim JB

            possibly a question for the Manhattan board, but isn't there a restaurant on the lower east side that is called "roumanian"? I was there some 20 or 30 years ago, schmaltz was on the table in the pitchers that are used here for maple syrup, and vodka bottles were brought to the tables in blocks of ice. The pastrami was specified as "roumanian" and it was very good. As memory recalls, not drenched in mustard glaze at all. "Just" their house pastrami. I'd love to have it again.

            1. re: Madrid

              Oh Lord, you're talking about Sammy's Roumanian Restaurant. My father used to call it "heart attack heaven." The schmaltz, the gribenes, and, yes, the pastrami. NY certainly had Roumanian pastrami. The particular smoke, which was spicier and slightly peppery, was considered the "king" of the species. Sammy's brisket was equally famous. I can't believe we ever ate like that and lived to tell the tale! Thanks Madrid for making me laugh. I assure you, whatever Zaftig's call Roumanian pastrami, isn't.

              1. re: teezeetoo

                Wow. Thanks!! I went there many years ago with my parents and haven't been quite able to remember the name. I remember another table with the vodka ice block. I also remember pickles drenched in garlic, as well as a sausage that seemed like about 50% garlic inside.

                Great memory.

                1. re: EvergreenDan

                  I was called shiska throughout our meal at Sammy's and I guess I proved it because it was the first time I'd ever had chopped liver. I thought it tasted like peanut butter with a lot of garlic. I loved the Roumanian pastrami, whatever it was. It is in a basement and going in there really felt like going back in time and space to a much older world.

                  Nothing like Zaftigs, in other words!

                  1. re: Madrid

                    It's shiksa, and hilarious, cause it's just how my non jewish girlfriend used to pronounce it.

          2. Sam LaGrassa's, which might be the best sandwich place in town, refers to their pastrami as Rumanian. It is described as "Dry cured beef seasoned then gently smoked.", and it is awesome (there). I've never had it at Zaftig's, but generally their sandwiches are not on par with LaGrassa's.

            Nellio's in Lexington also calls their pastrami roumanian, but I've never tried it.

            3 Replies
            1. re: black_lab

              Neillio's pastrami does have a sweet glaze on it.

              1. re: black_lab

                Evans in Marblehead also refers to their pastrami as Romanian.

                1. re: phatchris

                  Just noticed that on the truck in Dewey Square.

              2. As someone who lived steps from the Coolidge Corner location and now lives a mile or so from the Natick location, I have been to Zaftigs (no apostrophe: Slim, I am disappointed in you LOL) way too many times. Their pastrami is not very good. A small notch above supermarket pastrami and countless notches below places like Moody's Delicatessen, Sam LaGrassa's and Michael's Deli (far and away my 3 favorite in the Boston area for pastrami).

                If I was forced to eat at Zaftigs, I would probably order their potato pancakes (they are of the thicker more toothsome variety) and a side of their grilled banana nut bread. My wife likes their chicken salad but I have not tried it.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Gordough

                  Now that I think about it, neither Zaftig's nor Zaftigs makes much sense as a restaurant name.

                  Moody's pastrami is my clear new favorite in the area.


                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                    Wow, lots of Zaftigs hate. Maybe it's just because I grew up eating there often but I'm never unhappy there. I stick to potato pancakes, blintzes, omelettes and salads.

                    It looks like Michael's Deli also called his pastrami Romanian, actually iRomanian - pastrami 2.0? He also offers a balsamic and fig glazed version:

                    1. re: Bugsey34

                      I would wager they don't even make the potato pancakes themselves.

                      1. re: Bugsey34

                        I have a soft spot for their LEO - lox, eggs, and onions, that's old school, although of course their lox only vaguely reminds you of what lox is SUPPOSED to taste like.

                  2. Neillio's in Lexington also has Romanian pastrami. I haven't tried it. It has a dark glaze/bark and is fairly thickly sliced.