The Medieval Asian Origins Of The Modern Hamburgers

Perhaps not that many people are aware of the fact that the hamburgers are not quintessentially American in origin. As a matter of fact, this tremendously popular fast food treat has a long standing, tumultuous history, having crossed three continents through culinary trade.

Photograph depicting a juicy hamburger. Image source:

As such, the oldest origins of the burgers can be traced back to medieval Central Asia, specifically to Mongolia. In the 13th century, during Genghis Khan’s tyrannic rulership, Mongol raiders would stockpile meat in the saddles of their horses, primarily for conservation and transportation means, given the quite barren and harsh steppes that cover much of present-day Mongolia and its surroundings.

Eventually, by expanding their empire to the west, the Mongols came in contact with Russian trade caravans with which they exchanged the cavalry’s food (additionally, this is also how the steak tartare came to existence). From the Russian medieval polities of the 13th century, the Mongolian ham followed the trading routes that stretched deep inland to Europe, ultimately arriving in the area of contemporary Hamburg (nowadays the second largest German city after Berlin) during the Modern Age.

Mongolian raider, as shown on a Chinese jar of porcelain dating to the 16th century (Ming Dynasty). Image source:

This type of meat (referred to as ‘hamburg steaks’) quickly became a popular dish in the region. Several centuries later, the northern German immigrants to New York would sell steaks that bore the name of their native city, henceforth this dish being known as ‘hamburgers’.

Warping into the mid-late 20th to early 21st century, the popularity of the hamburgers grew astonishingly high not solely in the United States (or all of North America for that matter), but also worldwide. So it is that nowadays the hamburger is served in all continents of the world under different recipes, forms, and variations. Below you can watch a short video showcasing the history of the hamburger, from its origins to contemporary times:

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