Thursday, October 23, 2008
Pastrami was invented by Turkish horsemen in the 11th century. Because they were too busy storming around the Byzantine Empire, spreading Islam, looting, and pillaging, they rarely had time to sit down to eat a proper meal. So after they sacked a Byzantine village and slaughtered all the animals, they’d stuff the meat between their old musty saddle and their sweaty horse. And then off they’d go singing traditional Turkish songs about sacking the Byzantine Empire. What would come out of their saddles a few weeks later the Turkish horsemen called “pastrami.” This is how pastrami is still made to this day.
Pastrami was, also, the unlikely source of the very first food battles. When wandering Turkish tribes would meet on the steppes of Asia Minor, they would often have a pastrami battle. The tribesman with the best pastrami in his saddle would be selected from each side. Then the two would try to make the most fantastic dishes they could using only pastrami. A panel of impartial judges, selected from each tribe (a confusing process laden with politics and infighting), would then judge the dishes based on taste, presentation, and originality. You may recognize this format from the hit TV show, Iron Chef, which, in fact, was based on the ancient pastrami battles on the steppes of Asia Minor.
The winner of the pastrami battle would be hoisted onto his comrade’s shoulders, the whirling dervishes would arrive, and someone would bust out a “saz,” or a “sipsi,” and they’d jam some world music and eat pastrami all night long. The losers would feel shame and lament upon their loss until sunrise; at which time they would kill the horse that made the loser pastrami. And then they’d make pastrami out of it.
So in the spirit of the ancient Turkish pastrami battles on the steppes of Asia Minor, Tania and I decided to have a pastrami battle of our own. The “Iron Chef” in our battle was “The Hat” in Pasadena. The challenger was the up and coming “Oinkster” restaurant in Eagle Rock. “ALLEZ CUISINE!”
The Hat steps into the ring with a picture perfect pastrami sandwich. Even without the chili cheese fries in the background, it looks like Oinkster has its work cut out for it.
(Canter’s, and other Jewish delicatessens, were not invited to our challenge for a number of reasons. First, there is only room for two contestants in a pastrami battle. Second, they’re Jews and you can’t invite any Jews to a Turkish-themed pastrami battle, no matter how fictional. Turks hate Jews! Jews hate Turks! Lastly, they suck. Well, I actually like them, but as Tania points out, they’re so thick you “need another two slices of bread so I can share it with a friend,” and they’re a drier variety of pastrami. Perhaps their horses don’t sweat as much?)
Unfortunately, there really wasn’t much of a contest. The judges have spoken, and the winner is… … … … (really long pause, cameras go from The Hat, to Oinkster, back to The Hat, to that weird little Asian dude with one eyebrow up all the time… ) … … … “THE HAT!”
Well, what do you expect? The Hat has been doing it for 51 years. The Hat hugs the Oinkster.
“I thought Oinkster was a close second, though,” I said to Tania last night.
“No you didn’t,” she said. “You took the meat out of the bun and ate it by itself and you said it didn’t taste like anything.”
“Oh yeah,” I said, “that’s right.”
“Oinkster’s pastrami tastes like wet paper towels in a bun,” Tania said.
It looks right, but unfortunately Oinkster's pastrami didn't come out of a Turkish saddle.
Yeah, Oinkster’s is a little on the bland side. And it’s been written that their pastrami is the thing to get there. I think it’s the mustard, actually. I love their creamy mustard. (Tania hates that as well.) But their pulled pork sandwich is good. Plus they have beer (unlike The Hat). It’s really a pretty good joint, we’ve been a number of times, but it’s on the verge of being a little too hip and cool for it’s own good. You know how when you meet someone and there’s really nothing wrong with them, but they’re just a little too nice and too friendly and they’re overly concerned about how you’re doing even though you’ve only known them a short time? Oinkster gives me that feeling. But Tania really doesn’t like Oinkster.
“The Hat rules, Oinkster’s for FOOLS!” she wrote. “Mmmm, I want The Hat. And I officially denounce Oinkster. That place is so whatevs and janky. The décor is sloppy, the food is unimpressive and they try to come off as hip and cool, but it’s full of old people, nerds, and fat lesbians. BORING. If I want plantains, roasted chicken, Chinese chicken salad, and a pulled pork sandwich I’ll just put on a jacket because it’ll be cold from Hell freezing over and whatnot.”
Hipster kooks can have Oinkster. This is what we call "cool."
Tania's last sentence was a reference to the peculiar list of items on Oinkster's menu that have no rhyme or reason being next to each other. We marvel at it every time we go. “Yeah, I’ll have some chili, some plantains, a rootbeer, and a cupcake?” But apparently I’m never going again. Oh well.
So The Hat wins and Oinkster has to kill their horse.