The Origin of Hamburger Remains Mysterious

The origin of the cultural culinary icon of America, Hamburger, is shrouded in mystery. Lily tells us about this amazing fast food, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.  

America is truly a heavenly destination for its favourite food, the hamburger. The Philadelphia Cheese Burger was high on my priority list on my first visit across the oceans.

There is almost an aura of the mythology surrounding the origin of the hamburger. A number of people have claimed that they were the first to place a patty of ground meat between two slices of white bread. There is a shadow of mysterious history around toasted, soft buns, sweet fresh tomatoes, crisp lettuce and a juicy, perfectly seasoned patty as the showstopper of this gastronomic medley.

Although the inspiration for the hamburger did originate in the city of Hamburg, Germany. The concept of the sandwich was invented much later. During the 19th century, Hamburg became famous for its high-quality beef that was chopped, seasoned and moulded into patties.

When German migrants began arriving in America in groups during the 19th century, many started earning their living by opening restaurants in big cities like New York and Chicago. 

In 1837, New York’s Delmonico’s Restaurant offered a Hamburg steak first, in its menu. A German restaurant at Philadelphia’s Centennial Exposition, in 1876, served Hamburg steaks to thousands of customers. It was so popular that Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book published it in 1884.

Placing the steak between two slices of bread made it easier for industrial workers in factories to hastily eat from food carts. It was a stroke of culinary genius at that time in the 1800s.

In 1921, the first fast food establishment White Castle was opened in Wichita, Kansas. The white decorated restaurants with stainless steel countertops ensured that the hamburger meat was ground within sight. Soon French fries and milkshakes were served alongside the hamburgers.

Hamburgers kept soaring in popularity in the following decades. But, they got a hit during Work War-II due to food shortages. American soldiers brought hamburgers overseas. They warded off homesickness and were easy to make.

In the 1940s, McDonald’s opened their Burger Bar Drive-in in San Bernardino, California. By the latter part of the 1950s, they had sold more than 100 million hamburgers. Now, they sell 75 burgers per second.

Today, we find burgers all over the world. A host of creative and tasty options have replaced the beef in many places. Salmon, turkey and black bean to name a few. Japanese concocted a rice burger, McDonald’s in India developed a potato patty stuffed Aaloo Tikki burger to suit dietary preferences of Hindu diners.

This hunger fighter had many takers. You can find a hamburger in a Michelin starred restaurant as well as a hole in the wall diner.

In 2005, Las Vegas restaurant Fleur De Lys created a 5000 dollar hamburger!

Historically speaking, Louis Lassen, a Dutch immigrant, and owner of Louis’ Lunch, a small lunch wagon in New Haven, Connecticut, is believed to have sold the first hamburger and steak sandwich in the U.S., in 1900. New York Times magazine states, “The dish actually had no name until some rowdy sailors from Hamburg named the meat on a bun after themselves years later.”

The Seymour Community Historical Society of Seymour, Wisconsin credits Charlie Nagreen of inventing it, in 1885.

Other claimants to the throne of the inventor of hamburger are Otto Kuase of White Castle, Oscar Weber Bilby of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who created it in 1891, Frank and Charles Menches, who sold a ground beef sandwich at Erie County Fair, in 1885, in Hamburg, New York.

Fletcher Davis of Athens, Texas served a burger of ground beef patties with mustard and Bermuda onion between two slices of bread, with a pickle on the side at the St Louis World’s fair. There is a picture of Old Dave’s hamburger stand as a proof!

Now, McDonald sells estimated 550 million Big Macs in the United States annually. Other famous names are Burger King Culver’s, Wendy’s with its square patties, Jack in the Box, Cook Out, Harvey’s, Shake shackles, Five Guys Backyard Burgers, Fat Burger to name a few.

Hamburgers are often doled out as a fast dinner, picnic or party munching food. They are usually cooked outdoors on barbecue grills.

There are variations in different countries according to taste preferences. I will need another article to discuss all that.

Let me wind up this caravan by saying that if there is a juicy residue dripping on my chin and if I am furtively trying to wipe it off, then the burger is scrumptious. Despite popular opinion, I like the sight of smoke spiralling up from an outdoor barbecue set up on a lawn during the spring in North America. Before you roll your eyes, my favourite is the chicken burger!

©Lily Swarn

Photos from the Internet

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