Armenian Language Corner

How Do You Say Basturma in Armenian?

For more than a century, pastrami has become as ubiquitous in a deli as salami. Its name was probably modeled over salami, because it was first spelled in English as pastrama. This points out to the actual source, since this dried beef was introduced by Jewish Romanians in the late nineteenth century: the Romanian word pastramă.

The Romanian word, at its turn, came from Greek pastramas / pastourmas (παστραμάς/παστουρμάς), which was a borrowing from the Turkish word pastırma (pastırma et “pressed meat” in Old Turkish). As we all know, Western Armenians usually call it basturma (պասթըրմա), while Eastern Armenians used the form bastoorma (բաստուրմա). Thus, here we have the connection between pastrami and the well-known seasoned meat that many people enjoy with eggs for breakfast.

However, the fact that the word is Turkish does not mean that the food is indeed Turkish. Actually, historians of the ancient and medieval world were well aware that cured meat had been made in Asia Minor for centuries, at least since the Byzantine period, and called apokti.

Here is the clue to find the actual Armenian term for basturma, long before the Turks came from Central Asia to Asia Minor and the Armenian Highland in the eleventh century.

The word abookhd (Classical Armenian apukht) was already used in the Armenian translation of the Bible, in the fifth century A.D., meaning “salted and dried meat.” The word apokti was an equivalent of abookhd, and both came from one of the Iranian dialects, Pahlavi, where the word apuxt meant “uncooked” (a “un” and puxta “cooked”). Later, the Armenian word went into Georgian abokhti or abukhti, and, via the dialect of the Armenians of Poland, into Polish abucht.

The choice is yours, whether you prefer an Armenian word of no less than seventeen hundred years of antiquity, whose borrowing from Iranian is no longer remembered, and a loanword that everyone knows where it comes from. Meanwhile, you may also want to know that, in modern times, abookhd also gave birth to an interesting compound word, khozabookhd, which designates an item that you may find every day at your local deli too: ham.