Japanese Hamburger: Hambaagu or Hamburg?

It’s day three of the 2012 London Olympics and I’m slightly at a loss for words. Perhaps it’s exhaustion from our busy weekend (which I will happily share in a separate post), or because our DVR wasn’t working Sunday night when I couldn’t stay up to watch swimming, or perhaps I’m feeling a bit off because my left knee is having unusual joint issues. Instead of my weekly gym date with my BFF Monday night, I opted to be a couch potato, rest my uncooperative knee, watch the Olympics and look through my inventory of un-posted, yet not forgotten food photos.

It’s been a while since I shared a favorite childhood dish so I am sharing my Mom’s Japanese hambaagu (that’s Jenglish for hamburger). Japanese hambaagu is a classic Japanese family dish. I’m certain that every (non-vegetarian) kid in Japan has eaten hambaagu at one time or another. It’s one of those dishes you find on the menu of every family restaurant or kissaten (cafe) in Japan, or a Japanese-American home in the U.S.

Oh, and just a sidebar, but if you go to a Japanese restaurant in the U.S. and they have “hamburg” on the menu. It’s not misspelled. It’s another term for referring to Japanese “hambaagu”. Gotta love Jenglish!

The only difference from the hambaagu recipe posted below and the one my Mom used to make for us is that I use ground turkey meat, instead of ground beef, and I let the hambaagu steam just a little. Japanese hambaagu is a Japanese version of an American hamburger, yet without the bun, mayo and vegetables. A more accurate translation of the Japanese hambaagu, is meatloaf. Yes, I think hambaagu is more like individual meatloaf patties.

My Mom serves hambaagu with gohan (rice), miso shiru (miso soup), a cooked vegetable such as broccoli or cauliflower, and a salad. For our hambaagu sauce, we usually made it ourself, which was a mixture of our preferred amount of ketchup and okonomiyaki sauce or tonkatsu sauce. My Dad prefers his hambaagu with black pepper and mayonnaise. He likes to keep things real!

Mom’s Hambaagu

for the patty:

  • 1/2 small onion
  • 1 egg
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 slice bread (I use “shokupan” – Japanese sandwich bread)
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • Salt and pepper
for the sauce:
  • 1/4 cup okonomiyaki sauce (or tonkatsu sauce)
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons ketchup

1. In a medium bowl combine all ingredients for the hambaagu patty. Using your hands, mix until well-incorporated.

2. Make patties about 3/4 inch thick and 2 to 3 inches in diameter.

3. Heat olive oil on medium-high heat in a large pan with lid. Cook patties for about 5 minutes on each side. Pour a little water into the pan, just enough to cover the pan, and close with lid to steam the patty (about 2 minutes) until the water evaporates.

4. Mix sauce ingredients and serve, or use ketchup, soy sauce or other condiment of choice.

5 thoughts on “Japanese Hamburger: Hambaagu or Hamburg?

  1. Hey Bebe Mama,

    Just curious — what is the reason behind steaming at the end? Do you steam the hambaagu to cook it more thoroughly, as the patties are thick or to keep it moist?

    • Hi Friend, Good question. I was watching an episode of Diner’s Drive-ins & Dives on FoodTV, and there was a guy who was squirting a little water on the grill, then covering the burger patty with a tin lid. So I decided to give it a try. Steaming the patty actually helps the patty to retain more moisture. I was pretty surprised. Sometimes when my Mom made hambaagu for us, it was dry. This was usually because the patties were pretty thick so she had to cook it for a long time, essentially drying out the hambaagu and sometimes burning the patty (which I still do by accident when not keeping an eye on them). Anyway, my theory is that steaming, increases the cooking temperature around the burger, cooking it thoroughly, but at the same time helping it to retain moisture. I swear it works. My burgers are so much more tender. Even my mom was surprised when I took some to her. :) Gotta love TV – so much to learn! LOL.

      • Great — thanks so much for the tip. I also tend to over cook thick patties which leads to a dry burger. I’ll be sure to steam at the end as well!

  2. yummmm hambaagu. definitely a childhood favorite of ours!!

    a lil tid bit on “hamburg”: it is actually a correct engish/european term to say “hamburg” for hamburgers. back in the immigration days, immigrants from Hamburg, Germany, would ride for weeks on a ship. They had ground meat on board too, and they would salt it to keep it from spoiling. when it arrived in the States, they called it a Hamburg, or hamburger, as we know today. (yay for food channel + history!)

    From wikipedia (a “credible” source of information:
    In the late 18th century, the largest ports in Europe were in Germany. Sailors who had visited the ports of Hamburg, Germany and New York, brought this food and term “Hamburg steak” into popular usage. To attract German sailors, eating stands along the New York city harbor offered “steak cooked in the Hamburg style”.

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