The Early History of Hamburgers


Wonder where hamburgers came from?

We all know that hamburgers are one of the staples of American cuisine. Other nationalities identify America with the hamburger, as it is indeed one of the cultural American icons. But do you ever wonder about the origins of your favorite Big Mac or Burger King? You may be surprised that the hamburger traces its roots to eras long ago — and surprisingly, not in the USA.

Hamburger’s Asian to European origins

The hamburger has a rich and fascinating history; however it is still hotly disputed. Many sources claim that it traces back to the Mongols in around 12th century. These nomadic Mongol warriors carried a horse-dominated army. Since they moved from one place to another in a fast pace, they were unable to dismount from their horses to prepare a meal, so they were forced to eat while still riding. The story goes that they conceived a clever idea: they decided to store horse meat under their saddles. These warriors continued on their constant riding that led to the horse meat becoming tender and crumbled under the saddles, with the combination of the heat emanated from their horses’ bodies.

The raw minced meat spread throughout the Mongol empire. During the era, Kublai Khan and his soldiers invaded Moscow where they introduced raw minced horse meat to native Muscovites. This dish was the world’s first “steak tartare”. But the modern and restaurant-style version of the steak tartare was first concocted in France in the 1930’s.

From Russian’s steak tartare to Germany’s Hamburg steak

From Russians steak tartare to Germanys Hamburg steak

When the global trade boomed during the 17th century, Russian seafarers and merchants brought the steak tartare to the port of Hamburg, in Germany. There were also a considerable number of Russians living on and beyond the docks of Hamburg that caused the area to be referred to as the “Russian port.” When the raw steak tartare loomed on the consciousness of the German natives, they decided to “re-hash” the steak by re-molding and preparing it with heat. Thus, the “Hamburg steak” was born.

Hamburg steak brought to the USA

Years passed and by the 19th century, Hamburg became one of established ports in Europe, a hub for shipping goods as well as for transporting passengers to and from the other side of the Atlantic. Most of the German natives who worked in the shipping lines emigrated mostly to New York, USA, as it was the most common stop for ships that sailed from Hamburg.

It is generally believed that New York was the place where restaurants began to offer Hamburg steak in their menus, which was first catered to German sailors and immigrants with the intention of evoking memories of their home country they left behind. Not long after, Americans began to adapt their own version of the hamburger we’ve come to know and love.

But this isn’t the end of the story. America has its own “hamburger evolution” which will be discussed in a related article.

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