May is National Hamburger Month! And May 28th has been declared National Hamburger Day (at least here in the U.S., where the hamburger is king). Who knows how these holidays get started? I had a hard time even trying to figure out who invented the hamburger. After doing some research online, the only thing that seems certain is that there are conflicting stories and several people are taking credit. But the consensus seems to be that the city of Hamburg, Germany, wasn’t really the origin of the hamburger sandwich—rather, it was where we got the hamburger steak.
OK, once I start hearing everybody claiming to be the inventor of something, I lose interest. But the best story I read was that Genghis Khan can actually take credit for ground beef. He apparently had to figure out a way to feed his troops while they pillaged and conquered as a mobile army on horseback, so he packed wrapped slices of raw meat under the saddles of his men. Eww! The meat would crumble under the pressure and movement as they rode, and the friction would mince the meat—how about that; a successful raid and a ground beef patty at the same time! I’m not sure whether they ate it raw or not.
And here’s something else you may not know, unless you’re Japanese. When I first started working in Tokyo, I found out there is a difference between a “hambahgah” and a “hambahgu”, with the emphasis on that last syllable. Our beloved All-American sandwich is a “hambahgah”; considered to be a distinctly foreign food by the Japanese. The “hambahgu” is really a traditional hamburger steak, introduced to the world by the Germans and adapted to Japanese tastes. These are the subtleties you’ve got to learn!
Note the sauce, a rich demi glace that is the heart and soul of this dish, in my opinion. The patty is usually a combination of ground beef and ground pork, with a bread crumb filler to make the ingredients go further. I love it this way—it’s a similar texture to our American meatloaf. Served with a plate of plain white rice on the side, the hambahgu is one of my favorite childhood memories, and one of the best dishes you can eat with rice (see last month’s Zojirushi 101 for more). Although I prefer the classic demi glace on mine, you can find hambahgu at restaurants served with tomato sauce, ponzu with grated daikon, and/or topped with a fried egg or melted cheese.
More Hamburger Fun Facts:
•During WWI, hamburgers were known as “Liberty Sandwiches” because we wanted to avoid using any reference to Germany, which was considered the main instigator of the war.
•Current eating champion Sonya Thomas (aka Lee Sun-kyung), who holds records in over 25 eating competitions, once ate a 9-pound cheeseburger in 27 minutes. She is known as the “Black Widow” because she continually defeats men 4 to 5 times her size in eating contests. Sonya is 5 feet tall and weighs 98 pounds. LOL.
•In the 70s, a Big Mac® advertising campaign became very popular when a catchy jingle was nothing more than naming all the ingredients in the hamburger. Everyone would try to memorize it and sing it. Even if you’re too young to remember this commercial, can you name the ingredients in a Big Mac?
•In 2003, animal rights group PETA offered the city of Hamburg, NY, $15,000 to change the name of their town to Veggieburg. They said the city’s name “conjured up visions of unhealthy patties of ground up dead cows.” Hamburg declined the offer.
GUESS THE BURGER
Try to guess the name of the fast-food burger just by looking at the picture. For the answer, read my post for more hamburger fun. There are hints everywhere!
Try these hamburger recipes from Zojirushi—it’s another excuse to use your griddle or grill while you celebrate National Hamburger Month!
“Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions—on a sesame seed bun.”