Being quite well documented on the rich culinary heritage of Turkey as well as being a sucker for the foods of that country, it was not hard for me to write down a detailed list (big cevze, sahlep, Turkish delights, a traditional turquoise plate, pastirma, etc...) of what I was hoping that she would find in that magnificent place which I'd love to visit one day.
As expected, Jessica came back with a bag full of goodies. I was so happy to find most of the things I asked for (Thanks so much, Jessica!). Among the things which she bought in Instanbul was a meat speciality that I was particularly looking forward to tasting: "Pastirma".
"Pastirma" is a distinctively spicy, air-dried cured beef treat originating from Armenia that is made by pastirmacilik (pastirma butchers) all around Turkey and which is thinly sliced with a massive razor-sharp cleaver. In certain ways, it is a bit similar to our Swiss dry meat (Bündnerfleisch), the difference being that the pressed meat nuggets are covered with a very fragrant oxblood-red paste called çemen (lit., 'fenugreek') prepared with ground cumin, fenugreek, paprika and garlic.
Apparently, there are more than twenty types of "Pastirma". The most expensive pieces are cut from the fillet and sirloin as well as from the leg, shank and shoulder. The less expensive pieces are cut from the flank, neck and brisket. No matter the cut, all the meat is treated the same way (air-dried first, them smothered in çemen and left to cure). Nowadays, various meats are also used, including camel (the most prized), pork, lamb, goat and water buffalo.
According to the legend, Turkic horsemen of Central Asia used to preserve meat by placing slabs of it in the pockets on the sides of their saddles, where it would be pressed by their legs as they rode. "Pastirma" is usually considered Turkish, though it is produced and consumed in a wide area of Eastern Europe and the Middle East (Egypt, Palestine, Armenia, Syria, Lebanon and Cyprus).
The "Pastirma" that we tested was delicious. We really loved that unique tasting dried meat that somehow reminded us a little of Pastrami (the word pastrami, although used for a differently prepared type of meat goes back via Yiddish - פּאַסטראָמע pastrómeh - to "Pastirma") as it has a similar spicy flavor (The comparison stops there, though since texture-wise it has nothing in common with the Jewish speciality). Imagine eating Bündnerfleisch (Swiss dry cured meat) together with highly seasoned paste, well that's exactly how it tastes!
Make your own "Pastirma" (Greek: Pastourma):
Peter M. at "Kalofagas" shares his recipe with us.