Like the chip, really in this case the french fry the hamburger has become synonymous with the USA . Not only its cuisine but, the nation’s ability to export its culture whether it be food, or films to every corner of the world. US troops may never have landed in Moscow but it certainly has a Mcdonalds.

More than this the Hamburger is the product of the very thing that built the U.S- a massive influx of cultures and ideas from across the world. Popularly associated (and rightly so with the German port of Hamburg) the burger is the product of cultural and culinary synthesis.

For some clarity here we are calling a meat patty a burger, if the prerequisite is the bun/meat combination then all credit goes to the Americans and its tale is far shorter and I have less to write about.

The meat of the issue can trace its roots back to the Mongolian horse lords of the 12th century, bashing up raw horse steaks underneath their saddles. A dish not to dissimilar to those found in some British supermarkets own-brand ranges a few years back.

The horse burger developed into Tartared meat (similar to Steak Tartare) in what was the medieval Duchy of Muscovy, taking its name from the Tartar people of the Russian Steppes. As the Duchy expanded, trading both goods and ideas with the Poles and Prussians of Eastern Europe, the dish went with them.

The German Frikadelle


Here it was incorporated into various regional cuisines becoming especially popular in the port cities of the Hanseatic League (A Northern European trading group).  It adapted to the needs of its consumers; merchants, sailors and workmen whom needed something quick, easy and cheap. The meat patty- herbed and spiced to mask the taste of cheap sometimes off meat cooked very quickly served this demand. The Germans know the modern version of this as the Frikadelle.

Like with so many ‘’comfort foods’’ now eaten the burger patty saw its genesis as a street food of poor workers.  It is at this point that Hamburg specifically comes into play. Ports are always a hotbed of cultural and ethnic diversity which becomes mirrored in their food. The Hamburg Patty was born out of this cultural cornucopia, each using their own flavourings and types of meat.

Hamburg was the port from which a large proportion of European immigrants embarked on their journey to the United States in the mid 19th century. Many acquiring and then exporting their taste for the patty as well as its recipe. Some claim that the Hamburg American Line is responsible for the conscious exportation of the Frikadelle patty, although this is highly disputed.

Whatever the mode of entry, once in America its popularity boomed. The first patent for hamburger related machinery was granted in the 1850’s, this was still however only the patty.

Numerous Americans claim to be the creator of the modern Hamburger, that is the patty in a bun. Indeed steak sandwiches were being served in New York by 1872. All claims of any legitimacy occur from the 1890s to early 1900s. Claims are contentious with several claims of chefs creations being errm, hamburgled by others. Official accreditation goes to Louis Lassen, whose Louis’ Lunch still exists today in New Haven Connecticut. Here it is said the first true Hamburger was served in 1898. Others such as the Mench brothers claim to have created it accidentally at a county fair in 1886 in, surprisingly enough Hamburg New York.

The famous Whitecastle burger

Wherever and whenever the Hamburg patty was first placed between bread it caught on rapidly. Its cost, ease of preparation and eating as well as taste made it ideal for fast food joints.

Whitecastle was founded in 1921 with its trademark square buns, Wimpy in 1934, Mcdonalds 1940. The Hamburger in its American form returned to its home continent, like French Fries with American troops during the Second World War. Followed in the ‘50s and ‘60s by the burger joints as America swept all before it for a second time.