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  • We tend to think of the hamburger as a quintessentially American invention, the fastest of fast food, and a relatively recent innovation.

  • But the idea of grinding up leftover meat and forming it into a handy patty, goes back hundreds of years.

  • The Romans were the first to write their version down, in the shape of Isicia Omentata, a mixture of minced pork, wine, pepper and garum - an umami-rich fish sauce, ubiquitous in Roman cuisine.

  • Each was wrapped in caul fat - the delicate, tasteless inner lining

  • of the thorax of cows, sheep and pigs.

  • This was high-end cookery, and it survived the collapse of the Roman Empire, with these proto burgers finding their way into medieval recipe collections under various names.

  • and it survived the collapse of the Roman Empire,

  • with these proto burgers finding their way

  • into medieval recipe collections under various names.

  • There were rissoles, patties and pompeys, and they could be flat or round, more like modern meatballs.

  • They could also contain anything from fish to meat, and occasionally fruit and vegetables.

  • Variations on the theme were also found in the Middle East and beyond, some of which, such as kebobs, were brought back by travellers to join the European repertoire.

  • in the Middle East and beyond, some of which, such as kebobs,

  • were brought back by travellers to join the European repertoire.

  • By around 1700, the fried, flavoured, minced meat concept

  • had become established as part of the British culinary repertoire.

  • As oval or round balls,

  • they were very popular for garnishing large, spectacular dishes

  • such as roast meats.

  • The Georgians also came up with a thing called the Hamburg Sausage,

  • which was based on minced beef,

  • and isn't a million miles distant in flavour

  • from its eventual successor.

  • And they decided to use tomatoes to make catsup

  • later called ketchup

  • another fundamental element of the modern dish.

  • By the end of the 19th Century all of the elements were in place,

  • but it was in the US that they finally came together.

  • By the 1870s American restaurants were serving 'Hamburg steaks',

  • named, after the German port

  • from where high-quality beef was shipped across the world.

  • This version was a dish of fried flattened meatballs though,

  • made from offcuts from the more prized, and expensive, actual steaks.

  • By now the mincing machine had been invented,

  • making it easier than ever before to turn bits of random meat

  • into tasty and cheap meals.

  • By the 1890s the flat meatballs were being served in bread rolls

  • to hungry workers at factory gates across the US,

  • with relish an optional addition and pickles on one side.

  • The hamburger steak was shortened

  • to the simple hamburger,

  • and a classic was born.

  • Of course, it could have simply stayed as an urban curiosity,

  • and died out like other street foods

  • such as dried apples and pickled oysters.

  • But it was very practical, very easy, and very popular.

  • In 1921 the White Castle

  • fast food chain was founded,

  • marketing their hamburgers

  • as pure and hygienically produced

  • something somewhat lacking from the average street version.

  • By the 1930s, hamburgers had become simply burgers,

  • and White Castle had competition from the first Wimpy, and then McDonald's.

  • In 1954 the first Wimpy reached the UK, tucked into a Lyons Corner House,

  • injecting some American glamour

  • into a Britain just released from rationing.

  • They were initially served on a nice plate, with knife and fork.

  • Things changed rapidly, however,

  • and burgers gained a dual purpose as a cheap, forgettable takeout

  • and barbecue fodder.

  • In 2013, the UK's horsemeat scandal

  • revealed just how much bad burgers relied on cheap offcuts and filler

  • to keep the price down, and posh burgers boomed,

  • along with the brioche bun, and homemade sauces.

  • Worldwide, despite slowly decreasing beef consumption in the West,

  • burger consumption is going up,

  • and while Australia, the UK and the US lead the pack,

  • France and Russia are catching up.

  • Le Hamburger, anyone?

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We tend to think of the hamburger as a quintessentially American invention, the fastest of fast food, and a relatively recent innovation.

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B2 UK hamburger minced roman meat hamburg roman empire

The ancient history of the modern hamburger | Edible Histories Episode 4 | BBC Ideas

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