The Origins of the Burger


It is no secret what Americans like to eat. Hamburgers and cheeseburgers are popular all over the nation. It has been reported that every week, at least 34% of people in the United States go to a casual dining establishment. At least 60% of all sandwiches eaten in the nation are burgers. It has been said that 14 million of them are eaten every year and a full 71% of all beef that is served in restaurants is sold in burger form.

Given the strong link between the American culture and the burger, it would be forgivable to think that this sandwich was developed there. Many burger aficionados might be surprised to learn that burgers, as we know them, may have first been invested by the army of Genghis Kahn.

Genghis Kahn knows and of the best emperors and conquerers of all time, had to have food to go for his soldiers and the people who traveled with him. His Mongol horsemen were called the ‘Golden Horde” and they were a fast-moving bunch. They would spend days on end without getting off of their small and solid ponies. They have very little time to cook what they were eating.

Kahn and his Golden Horde were often followed by a village of people who traveled by yurt. They would be accompanied by herds of horses, sheep, goats, and oxen. To help the soldiers eat on the go, the villagers used ground meat. They would shape it into patties, much like the burgers we have today. These patties were put under the soldiers’ saddles, this tenderized the meat and made it more edible. The soldiers only needed one hand to eat the patties, which were eaten raw.

Then things changed when Khubilai Khan, grandson to Genghis Kahn, took this food to Moscow. The younger Kahn invaded the city in 1238. The raw, ground meat patties were incorporated into Russian cuisine. They took the patties and created, “Steak Tartare.” The word “Tartar” was the word the Russians used for the Mongol population. The meal was changed further as chefs in Russia added raw eggs and onions to create something of their own.

In another part of Europe, people were mincing their beef and considered this to be a delicacy. They hashed their beef and turned into different kinds of sausage. This all started in the 15th century. During this time, trade was regularly done between various places in Russia and Hamburg, Germany. One thing led to another and Steak Tartare made its way from Russia to Hamburg.

It may have taken a while but by the 1700s, Hamburg, Germany was one of the largest trading ports in Europe. Sailors took Steak Tartare, whose name has changed to “Hamburg Steak,” to the United States. This prompted New York eateries that catered to sailors to offer, “streak made in the Hamburg style.”

A lot has changed since the “steak made Hamburg style” was served to sailors and immigrants in New York City, New York. That patty was made from cheap meat that had been mixed with local spice and cooked.

In 1891, Oscar Weber Bilby served the closest thing to what people today get when they order hamburgers or cheeseburgers. He was the first to serve the meat patty on a bun. Before him, if the patty was not served with gravy, as it was in Hamburg, Germany, it was served on bread. During the late 17th century, a number of people claimed that they had invented and served the best burgers and it is hard to know who actually created what we think of as, authentic hamburgers.

Today, when people think of an order of burgers and shakes, people think of the United States and American culture. The country has exported a number of its burger restaurants around the world. New York Times’ columnist Thomas Friedman has even speculated that no two countries that both have McDonald’s have ever fought a war against each other.

Given how much the meat patty has changed in the last 800 years, it remains interesting to think that this now, quintessentially American dish was started by Genghis Kahn and his Golden Horde.

The next time you go out with friends or family for burgers, raise a glass to Genghis Kahn!

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