Hanbagu (Hamburger) (ハンバーグ)

Hanbagu (hamburger) or hanbagu suteki (hamburger steak) is a dish, made by adding minced vegetables such as onions, and seasonings such as pepper into ground meat (pork, beef, other meat of livestock, or a combination of meats), mixing eggs and bread crumbs together, forming the meat mixture into ovals or circles, and broiling them. The 'hanbagu,' one of the waseieigos (Japanese word constructed of elements from one or more English terms), is called 'hamburger' or 'Salisbury steak' in English.


This dish, taking a little time for preparation, is a food so easy to chew that even those who have a little masticatory strength, like young children or elderly people, can easily eat it and is also rich in nutrition and easy to digest. In general, it is accompanied with heated vegetables or a salad, and seasoned with different kinds of sauces (seasonings). It is made by mixing mainly ground meat and minced vegetables with bread crumbs, adding salt, which lends the meat mixture some cohesion, and eggs as a binder, and is broiled, and another type is 'nikomi hanbagu' (stewed hamburger) stewed in richly flavored soups.

Loved, especially by children, it becomes one of the popular items on school lunch menus, and is a staple item in family restaurants. Since it is tender enough to bite without using any cutlery such as a knife and a fork, 'hanbaga' (a hamburger sandwich) consisting of hamburger patties between two pieces of bread can be made, a feature that ensures a staple item of fast food chains, too. It is easily cut into bite-sized pieces even with chopsticks, used in Japan, and often flavored in Japanese style.

However, since what makes hamburgers delicious depends on sauce seasonings, rather than the quality of the ground meat itself, hamburgers have been thought (unjustified a little) to be rather humble creations invented as a means for using up inexpensive ingredients called meat scraps for a long time.
For this reason, hamburgers are sometimes regarded as 'a low quality and low sophisticated dish.'
Originally, hamburgers had an aspect as a common food for working people (as described later in this article).

There are many kinds of variations because many different ideas are introduced in the process of cooking. Many ideas can be introduced, like seasoning used, what kind of meat to use, how meat is to be ground, what kinds of chopped vegetables to be mixed in, or how well done hamburger patties should be. In Japan, it is rare for diners to be asked how well done they would like their hamburger patties, except in hamburger restaurants, but it is heard that in western countries, diners are often asked if they would like their hamburger steaks rare, medium, or well done.

History and variations

The origin of 'hamburger' is said to derive from a steak tartar broiled and seasoned with sauces, which became popular as a common food for laborers in the German city of Hamburg (the term 'hanbagu' comes from an English pronunciation of 'Hamburg'). Incidentally, the origin of 'steak tartar' is a raw meat dish which the Turkic Tartar of the Mongolian Empire ate, who invaded as far as Europe around the thirteenth century.

There is another belief that back to the Age of geographical Discovery, 'hamburger' originally derived from a cooking technique which enabled cooks to make extremely tough dried meat stored in ships as tender and delicious as meat was before dried (this technique was most popular for crew in ships which mainly called at the harbor of Hamburg).

During World War II, in the United States of America, there used to be a campaign to eat hamburger steak instead of luxurious beef steak. Afterward, hamburgers consisting of hamburger patties placed between two slices of a bun became so popular that they became a feature of fast food chains such as McDonald's.

From the 1960's onward, during the high economic growth period in Japan, meat of livestock rich in nutrition was one of the relatively expensive ingredients. Consequently, housewives preferably introduced hamburgers made from cheap ground meat (chicken and pork) on their dinner menu to produce a gorgeous dinner, ready-made hamburgers which only needed broiling appeared on the market, so that hamburgers were quickly available throughout the whole country. From around the 1970's, rapidly diversified retort foods (retort hamburger patties) were put on the market and were made easily available, hamburger became the most common meal.

In particular, retort hamburger patties often become a breadwinning menu as well as a highly profitable goods in family restaurants due to some merits; quick and easy cooking (hamburger patties can be served on the table just by 'yusen' (warming the containing vessels in hot water) a retort hamburger patty which is once broiled, and enclosed or with a sauce together in a pouch), sauces (seasonings) masking the bland taste of low quality ground meat, and extremely low cost results from mass production in clean factories (central kitchens). Some restaurants, however, thaw raw hamburger patties in frozen or chilled storage and then broil them in order to serve light and fluffy textured hamburger patties, a texture which retort hamburger patties cannot provide when broiled. These frozen hamburger patties are widely used in present-day hamburger chain restaurants.


Pork and beef meat, common ingredients, are used for hamburgers, but other ingredients are sometimes used. For example, chicken meat is used. Furthermore, hamburgers can also be made by mixing meat substitutes such as fish meat or tofu, which can be seen as tofu hamburgers.

As for chopped vegetables mixed with ground meat, onions are most commonly used or chopped carrots or green peas are sometimes mixed for children, picky eaters are willing to eat unpopular vegetables hidden in hamburgers. Besides, it is known that adding a small amount of chopped shiitake mushrooms makes hamburgers more flavorful and stuffed pimentos are made by halving a pimento, removing the seeds, and stuffing a raw hamburger meat mixture inside the pimento.

Hamburgers with a slice of cheese placed on the top, or stuffed inside them are sometimes called 'cheese burgers' or 'cheese hamburgers.'
In addition, an egg, sunny-side up is sometimes placed on the top. Adding a hamburger patty to other dishes can also make the dishes more gorgeous. Hamburger curry is a prime example. In family restaurants, taking the balance of colors and nutrition into account, they serve hamburgers with several kinds of vegetables such as glazed carrots (boiled sweet), fried potatoes, sautéed green beans, and paisley, arranging a popular assortment of red, yellow, and green colored vegetables. An example is seen where mixed vegetables (mixture of diced carrots, corn, and green peas) are used for easily preparing the three colors.

Another variation is the 'Italian hamburger' with a tomato based sauce, 'hamburger with grated radish (in Japanese style)' with grated radish and a sauce of Japanese taste, and 'stewed hamburger' with demi-glace sauce (type of brown sauce).

Similar dishes

A large lump of hamburger meat mixture of the same kind baked in an oven is referred to as a 'meat loaf,' and formed into bite-sized balls as meatballs.
Raw hamburger patties breaded and deep fried in oil is called as 'menchikatsu.'
The stuffing used for 'rorukyabetsu' (stuffed cabbage) is almost the same meat mixture.

In Japan, carbonized archaeological relics, called 'Jomon cookies' (carbonized bread like (cookie like) materials) were excavated, that contain residues of the nut's starch and are thought to be relics from the middle of the Jomon period, when the technique for preserving and processing food had progressed. The analysis of the carbonized materials indicates that they might include some animal meat and blood, eggs of wild birds as well as plant materials and they are thought to be a food associated with present-day hamburger patties. At present, questioning and lacking the credibility of the analysis of residual fatty acid used for analyzing the carbonized materials, there still exists the possibility that the 'Jomon cookie' was a kind of hamburger because wild bores and deer were major targets for hunting during the Jomon period. Another says that the 'Jomon cookie' might be a type of preservative food like pemmican, which was dried and not broiled.

Home made hamburgers

In making hamburgers at home, several helpful hints make them tastier.

Meat mixture

It is said that it is better to use mixture of ground beef and pork, as they complement each other, than just using ground beef or pork. In Japan, well marbled beef is preferable for meat dishes, but in the case of hamburgers, lean meat with low fat is more suitable to taste the meat flavor itself and is also cheaper, thus being appropriate for home made cooking.

Although it takes little time to preparer, adding chopped onions previously sautéed into ground meat increases the natural sweetness of hamburgers.

What can be said about bread crumbs as a binder is that using bread crumbled into small pieces and soaked in milk makes hamburgers smoother in texture and milder in taste than using bread crumbs commercially available. Bread broken into rough pieces, however, provides a tough texture. Using bread crust gives a rough texture, too. Broadcasted on April 22, 2009, a TV program, 'Tameshite Gatten' (Experience and Understand), of Japan Broadcasting Corporation introduces the way to use 'fu' (bread like pieces of wheat gluten) and 'kanten' (Japan agar) instead of using bread crumbs.


With large hamburger patties fried in a pan, cooked unevenly, they sometimes split away when turned over in order to cook well done. In this case, even the thick hamburger patties can be cooked well done and beautifully by putting the patties on a plate, covering the plate with plastic wrap, heating it in a microwave oven till the patties begin to exude juice, before frying them in a pan. Since gravy from the patties heated in a microwave oven has a delicious taste, it is used for making sauce.

In addition, a recipe for frying hamburger patties in a pan till well browned on the bottom before baking them in a preheated oven is also followed.

Prevention of food poisoning

Reducing the thickness of hamburger patties and heating the inside of the patties (75℃ for one minute) prevents food poisoning such as a contamination from Escherichia coli 0157:H7.

A steel skewer is used to judge the inside temperature of the hamburger patties by inserting it and leaving it in for a while, pulling it out and quickly placing the tip of it on the lips, the temperature should feel hot, and an electric thermometer for cooking is commercially available, with a gauge made of stainless steel, with this it is easy to measure temperatures and is sanitary to use.

[Original Japanese]