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This American Fast Food Staple Was Actually Invented by the Romans

This article is part of our Cocktail Chatter series, where we dive into the wild, weird, and wondrous corners of history to share over a cocktail and impress your friends.

Juicy, often cheesy, and just plain delicious, there is perhaps no dish better representative of American palates than a classic burger. In fact, Americans are reported to consume 50 billion burgers per year, or approximately three burgers per person per week. But no matter how prominent American hamburgers may be in the modern zeitgeist, they actually predate the Union by about 2,000 years.

The first iterations of the present-day hamburger were created in ancient Rome sometime in the first century A.D., and were referred to as isicia omentata. The recipe for isicia omentata known today comes from the ancient Roman cookbook, “Apicius,” and was recorded sometime in the late- fourth or -fifth century by an unknown author. The dish — a patty consisting of minced meat, pepper, wine, pine nuts, and garum, a rich fish sauce — was common throughout the Roman Empire and could be prepared using a variety of meats or seafood.

As the Roman Empire expanded across modern-day England, the Romans introduced a number of foods to the British, including isicia omentata. The Romans are also credited with introducing them to fast-food establishments, or thermopolia, which made street food like isicia omentata readily available to the public.

When the Romans left England shortly before the fall of the Empire, their culinary traditions remained, with other minced meat patty dishes going by names like rissoles or pompeys emerging throughout the medieval period. Thirteen centuries after the first introduction of isicia omentata to England, the Hamburg steak appeared, first recorded in 1747 in Hannah Glasse’s “The Art of Cookery.” Glasse’s recipe — a smoked sausage made from minced beef, suet, pepper, clove, nutmeg, garlic, vinegar, salt, red wine, and rum — was served on toast, an early precursor to the modern burger bun. Wildly popular throughout Victorian England, the Hamburg steak migrated to the United States sometime in the mid- to late-1800s and gained traction following the 1845 invention of the meat grinder.

While there is little debate surrounding the hamburger’s likeness to the Hamburg steak, determining who created the first hamburger is a different story. One theory suggests that it was Frank and Charles Menches of Canton, Ohio, who created the first at the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, N.Y., in 1885. The story goes that the two brothers ran out of sausages to put in their beloved pork sausage sandwiches (typically served with ketchup and sliced onions) so they subbed in ground beef. However, that same year Charlie Nagreen (a.k.a. Hamburger Charlie) claimed to have created the first at the Seymour Fair in Wisconsin when he smashed a meatball between two slices of bread and called it a hamburger.

Despite these two conflicting reports, the United States Library of Congress credits Louis Lassen with the creation of the American hamburger circa 1900. Lassen’s recipe, which was served at his restaurant in New Haven, Conn., consisted of a smashed beef patty served between two slices of bread with cheese and condiments.

The burger was revolutionized in 1916 by Walter Anderson in Wichita, Kan., who served burgers on specially crafted buns at his food cart. Five years later, Anderson and entrepreneur Billy Ingram opened the first White Castle restaurant, and with the inception of McDonald’s and Burger King in the ‘40s and ‘50s respectively, burgers had cemented their place in the American diet. No matter who created the original burger or how ancient its roots may be, we couldn’t be more grateful for it.

*Image retrieved from Brent Hofacker via

The article This American Fast Food Staple Was Actually Invented by the Romans appeared first on VinePair.

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