The Fascinating History of the Hamburger

The hamburger is one of the most popular dishes in the world, but few people know the story behind its name. According to Food Lovers Companion, the name hamburger comes from the port city of Hamburg, Germany, where 19th-century sailors are believed to have discovered the idea of shredded raw meat (known today as veal tartare) after trading with Russia's Baltic provinces. The hamburger began with the Tatars (or Tatars), a nomadic people who invaded Central Asia and Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages. Tatars ate their shredded meat raw (hence the name of steak tartare these days).

According to one story, they softened the meat by placing it between the saddle and the horse while they rode. When the Tatars introduced food to Germany, the meat was mixed with local spices and fried or grilled and known as Hamburg steak. German emigrants to the United States brought with them steaks from Hamburg. It appeared on New York restaurant menus in the 1880s. The world's largest restaurant chain, with more than 26,000 restaurants in 119 countries, has served billions of hamburgers.

When this group invaded Moscow in the 13th century, they introduced Russians to the practice of eating shredded raw meat. The relatives of Oscar Weber Bilby claimed that he was the true inventor of the hamburger, and pointed out that he put the hamburger into a real bun in 1891 in Tulsa, Oklahoma (via What's Cooking America). There have been many statements about the official creator of the hamburger, even twelve years later, in 1885, when, at a fair in Hamburg (New York), brothers Frank and Charles Menches had little pork and decided to use beef in their sandwich. All this to say that the hamburger has traveled all over the world to where it is today with a homonym that reminds us of its humble origins. No matter who it was, one thing is certain: hamburger restaurants have done a great job taking advantage of that.

Sometime in the 17th century, Russian ships brought their delicacy of raw minced meat to the German port city of Hamburg. But how did this mince burger become the sandwich we know as a hamburger? The story is not entirely clear. The popularity of the hamburger skyrocketed in the United States after World War II, when hamburgers became the main dish on the menu of self-service restaurants, thanks to the increasing number of cars. However, the idea of the hamburger may have appeared in first-century Rome, where there is a record of ground or minced meat flavored with pepper, wine and pine nuts (via Taste of Home). But what is the meaning of calling it “Hamburg”? For more German traditions, check out these old school German recipes.

Hundreds of years later, in 1747, Hannah Glasse's English cookbook The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy included a recipe for smoked minced meat sausage seasoned with tallow, nutmeg, garlic and other ingredients that came to be known as “Hamburg sausage”.In 1802, more than 50 years later, the Oxford English Dictionary included the “Hamburg steak” in its publication and defined it as a “hard portion” of salted minced meat, often lightly smoked, mixed with onions and breadcrumbs. Today's hamburgers are a far cry from their humble beginnings. From fast food restaurants to gourmet burger joints, hamburgers have become an international phenomenon. Whether you're enjoying a classic cheeseburger or trying something new like a veggie burger or turkey burger, you can thank Hamburg for giving us this delicious dish.

Valerie Jhanson
Valerie Jhanson

Avid food enthusiast. Freelance coffee fan. Professional tv ninja. Hipster-friendly travel guru. Extreme thinker.