The Japanese Hamburger

This week we thought we’d do something different when it comes to discussing Japanese food and instead discuss what the Japanese do with what is generally considered a Western food: the hamburger. To have a hamburger in Japan (or just to have one Japanese style) is not quite the same as getting a hamburger in the West. So while you’re on a crusade to sample Japanese food, don’t forget to try some of the food you’re probably more familiar with—only in the Japanese way!

Most Japanese hamburgers (known as “hanbaagu” in Japan) are similar to what is known as “hamburger steak” in the West. Eaten with a knife and fork on a plate (with no bun), the Japanese hamburger patty is made from beef or pork (or both) and is minced together with onions, breadcrumbs, eggs and/or a mixtures of spices. The patty is then served with the diner’s topping of choice, which is typically a combination of any of the following: a fried egg, teriyaki sauce, demi-glace brown sauce, or vegetables.

When the Japanese decide to make hamburgers at home, more often than not it’s the hamburger steak. This is also a popular dish in family restaurants and other restaurants serving Western-style food.

The Japanese actually do have American-style hamburgers complete with a bun, called “hanbaagaa,” in the American-export fast food chains, such as McDonald’s and Burger King, as well as in other Asian burger franchises. However, the Japanese find holding their food directly with their hands unsanitary. If you order a hamburger in Japan, don’t be surprised to find it served in cup-shaped tissue paper that you’re expected not to unwrap. You hold onto the burger by gripping the tissue paper portion (careful not to bite into the paper!), allowing you to eat the hamburger without touching your food directly.

Another way that the Western-style burger differs in Japan is in the toppings. Teriyaki sauce-covered patties, fried egg-covered patties, shrimp croquette-covered patties, patties made from tofu, and even pork cutlets in place of the beef make for popular hamburgers in Japan. Some hamburger buns are even made entirely from rice grains!

Have you ever had a Japanese hanbaagu or hanbaagaa? What did you think of them? Would you be interested in trying one? Do you like the idea of not touching your burger with your hands for sanitary reasons?

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Tags: Food, japan, japanese culture, lunches, Rice