Where does the name of our delicious and wonderful diet wrecker, the hamburger, comes from? Does it have anything to do with Hamburg? Sit down, here comes a story!
Back then, in Genghis Khan era, around the 12th Century, meat was consumed raw and pressed, since there was no refrigerator (duuuuh) and salt was expensive. This habit was taken to the West, and of course new ways of consuming meat showed up. In Russia, raw meat, which was very common among Tartar people, got some spice and became known as ‘tartar’, a recipe which we know until today.
Going a little more to the West, the German people, especially in the North and Northeast of what is Germany today, named the delicacy as ‘mett’ (in the nierdeutsch dialect, of low German) and ‘hackpeter’ (East). The difference between both is very small, and nowadays it has more to do with spices used and the habit of using the local name.
But since we are in Hamburg, let’s follow the story around here. ‘Mett’, that is still found nowadays in restaurants and bakeries, comes from an ancient German word, ‘miet’, which means fresh meat, and in English became ‘meat’. It basically consists in spreading the raw meat on the bread, adding salt, pepper and onions (on the current recipe, because in Middle Age salt was very expensive, and some other condiments of easier access were used, such as parsley).
Since Hamburg has a long story of being a Harbor city, the constant arrivals and departures of sailors from the city harbor added new flavors to the local cuisine, but it also exported novelties. By the end of 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century, more specifically, the ‘Hamburger beef’ arrives to the USA. Most ships harbored in New York, which explains the big mix the city is today. It’s not a coincidence that German people and their descendants are one of the largest immigrant groups in the USA.
In the beginning of the 20th Century, it was already possible to keep the meat conserved longer, and so the habit of eating raw meat the same way as in Mongolian steppes wasn’t as appreciated in America. That hamburger beef was cooked, and it also had onions, garlic and spices. The great hamburger revolution in the USA was the introduction of bread, sandwich like, making the meal a great part of the North-American culinary brand and culture. Not only for being so flavorful, but also for how practical it was, since ground beef didn’t have to be tender or expensive.
Here in Germany is very common to see in bakeries and supermarkets the so-called ‘Frikadelle’, which is a small meatloaf and it reminds us a little of hamburger beef, only chunkier.
By the way, pun not intended, how about enjoying a hamburger in Hamburg? The houses specialized in handmade burgers have become more and more common in the city. The ones I recommend and tested are Burgerlich, Hans im Gluck and Better Burger. I’ve received recommendations of The Bird, in Sankt Pauli, but I haven’t tried it yet. With a more affordable price, but also very good, is Jim Block, with many stores around town.
Just so you know: Hamburger here is the name of the citizen of Hamburg. So, if you want to eat the sandwich, it’s best to just say ‘burger’, with the American pronunciation. Not that people don’t understand ‘hamburger’, but it sounds a little weird. 😉