What’s more American than a hamburger? Maybe apple pie, which we’ll have after our hamburger. But the American hamburger is a symbol of the States all over the world. It wasn’t always so.
It’s easy to guess the hamburger’s geographic origin; after all, it’s right there in the name. But the original version of the now-iconic dish looked almost nothing like what’s served at drive-thrus across America.
Motz says the Hamburg steak plate was one of the most popular dishes in its native city, a major port that hosted many German immigrants on their way to the States. Consisting of “chopped beef that was turned into a patty and then, of course, pan-fried,” the dish was rounded out with onions, potatoes, and gravy, making it a cheap and easy meal for would-be Americans stuck in immigration limbo, sometimes for months.
It’s these immigrants who brought the Hamburg steak across the Atlantic, setting up carts in lower Manhattan that catered to new arrivals in search of comfort food. The vendors preserved the steak plate in its original form—an actual plate of food, served with a fork. Authentic, but as Motz notes, “not very portable at all.”
It was Americans who turned it into a sandwich, and even then there were ups and downs for the burger. Read the whole history of the hamburger at First We Feast.