We know, we know – buns are an iconic part of burgers. In fact, some might say buns can make or break a burger. But before burgers, there were meat patties. And they were (and are!) absolutely delicious – in fact, they remain a staple dish in many countries.
(If you haven’t read it yet, check out our post on the origins of burgers with buns here!)
Here are some of the places that can vouch for the tastiness of meat patties, no buns needed:
The Mongol Empire
So the Mongol Empire doesn’t exist anymore, but we thought we’d include them here because according to legend, they’re the ones we have to thank for the burgers we eat today. Back in the 1100s, Genghis Khan and his army moved around a lot (since they were, y’know, busy establishing the world’s largest land empire). They travelled on horseback and often wouldn’t dismount for days, so they needed something that could be easily transported and eaten.
Meat patties were the perfect solution. The Mongol army grounded and flattened meat into patties, then carried it with them under the saddle of their horses, which had the added bonus of tenderising the meat while they rode. They could then just eat these patties with one hand, raw. When you’re out there building an empire, you have no time to stop and build fires to cook your food.
The Mongols then invaded Russia, which introduced uncooked meat patties into the Russian culinary scene. This dish goes by another name today: steak tartare.
Nowadays, it’s popularly eaten with a raw egg yolk – a practice which originated in French restaurants in the 19th century.
In the 1600s, Hamburg was a bustling port city, and regular trade with Russia brought steak tartare to Germany. Someone then had the bright idea of actually cooking these meat patties and changed the food world forever. Voilà, the Hamburg steak.
This dish is usually made just from ground beef (although sometimes egg, bread or onions are also added into the mix) and served with gravy. It quickly gained popularity and, in the 19th century, was introduced all over the world by migrating Germans.
An adapted version of the Hamburg steak – simply called hanbāgu (Hamburg in Japanese) – is a household staple in Japan. They’re a part of a culinary tradition called yōshoku, which refers to Western dishes modified to suit Japanese tastes. The Japanese elite adopted yōshoku dishes after the Meiji Restoration, a time when Western culture and influences were increasingly incorporated into all areas of Japanese life. It was only a decade after World War II, however, that hanbāgu rose to popularity among the general population in Japan after the price of meat went down.
Hanbāgu is usually made from a mixture of ground beef and pork, chopped onions, breadcrumbs and egg. The demi-glace sauce it’s often served with is slightly sweet, making this dish a hit with Japanese children.
Though Hamburg steaks gained popularity in New York ports way back in the late 19th century due to the influx of German migrants, the most common variant of burgers without buns in the United States today is the Salisbury steak.
This dish is named after James H. Salisbury, a physician who popularised meat patties in the US. He believed that fruits and vegetables were bad for you and caused diseases (yeah, we’ve come a long way since then). For Salisbury, a patty of minced meat was pretty much the healthiest thing you could eat. He treated a bunch of soldiers during the American Civil War with this mincemeat diet, and this dish now lives on as a common TV dinner in American households.
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