The burger has become a ubiquitous part of Western cuisine, but are we in danger of overlooking its myriad charms?
Wait, wait, hear me out. I know burgers aren’t expensive, fancy or rare. They don’t boast a particularly proud heritage. They are largely incompatible with a healthy diet and exercise. In the grand pantheon of sandwiches, burgers rank as one of the greasiest, most fattening portable foods around. Even the word ‘burger’ or its variants (‘hamburger’, ‘cheeseburger’ etc.) sounds blunt and plain.
You get the idea. My point is that the above points could be used to disparage the humble burger, but instead I’m going to use them to champion it. Food snobs (and vegetarians) should probably stop here before they throw up in disgust.
BURGERS AREN’T EXPENSIVE, FANCY OR RARE
First, I should acknowledge that burgers can indeed be both fancy and expensive. Fancy usually means replacing ketchup with red onion relish or something, and in some madcap instances requires use of a knife and fork. I don’t know if you’ve ever used cutlery to eat a burger, but I can tell you it makes you feel very foolish. The casual, handheld nature of the burger is beautiful and natural, something to be treasured (more on that later). As for relishes and herbs and the like, I’ve no real issue with those sort of accoutrements, but what’s wonderful about the burger is its simplicity. It’s delicious with or without the expensive extras.
As for price, you obviously want to avoid the deathly cheap stuff, but it’s not overly expensive to get free range and/or organic meat these days. Not only is it ethically sound to eat this way, but it bumps the tasty factor up several notches.
HUMBLE FOOD, HUMBLE HERITAGE
Some very brief history: The original ‘Hamburg Steak’ (a mix of shredded low-grade beef and local seasoning) is from the North German city, supposedly first sold and eaten in the 18th century. Similar to the way pizza travelled from Italy to the United States in the early 20th century, the Hamburg Steak recipe ended up stateside in the late 1800s. We all pretty much know what happened next, and now the hamburger is almost considered the national food of America. By extension, it may be the most famous and popular fast food in the West.
So of course, it’s rather less humble these days, particularly when you consider its association with global megachains like McDonalds (I’m sure you don’t need to tell me this, but the Big Mac is one of the most shameful burgers out there), but the food has remained essentially unchanged for some three-hundred years now. There’s something very comforting about that.
INCOMPATIBLE WITH EXERCISE
OK, so this isn’t really much of a positive, unless you just love being fat. However, when you just want to take a break from worrying about your diet for an evening, a big fat burger is right up there with pizza or a big ol’ pile of chips in terms of fatty gratification. It’s got it all – a hefty slab of meat, soft, thick bread, and obscene amounts of heavenly melted cheese. Savour every greasy crumb of it on a Friday or Saturday night, then get back to avoiding a heart attack the next day.
I love sandwiches. The sheer number and combinations of fillings you can stick between two slices of bread is genuinely incredible. Meat, cheese, salad and sauce/relish doesn’t rank as one of the most innovative combinations, but it’s still one of the best.
Of course, burgers aren’t the same as sandwiches, hence the subheading. While sandwiches make a good lunch, and can be quite filling, burgers are a portable feast. The sheer density of the meat ensures a full stomach, while the salad is stuffed right in there with everything else, saving you precious time. Furthermore,the burger provides a visceral pleasure that just can’t be had with a regular cold sandwich. Not many foods feel so hungrily primal.
FINALLY, IT JUST TASTES INCREDIBLE
Well it does, doesn’t it? A good burger is exceptionally meaty, satisfyingly greasy, and overloaded with cheese. The ultimate handheld food, it doesn’t even require a paper plate, let alone cutlery. Haute cuisine it ain’t, but try telling me this holy grail of savouriness isn’t one of the greatest foods in the world.