B2 High-Intermediate UK 395 Folder Collection
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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.
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.
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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The ancient history of the modern hamburger | Edible Histories Episode 4 | BBC Ideas

395 Folder Collection
Annie Huang published on June 3, 2020
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