All-American Glop

Burger Heaven, American Style

Burger Heaven, American Style

One of the advantages of my having a Hungarian upbringing is that it allows me to cast a critical eye on what most Americans would consider good eating. Take, for example, the hamburger. One starts with a plain piece of ground meat, chars it, and adds an inch or two of cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions (either raw or caramelized), mayonnaise, ketchup, mushrooms, and God knows what. The result is a concoction that will likely contribute more to staining your shirtfront than satisfying your hunger.

Hungarians prefer to season the meat itself rather than topping it off with a salad. My mother used to mince (not chop!) onions, garlic, and parsley and work it gently in with the ground beef (which itself could be mixed with bits of ground pork or veal). Take a look, for example, at this recipe for fasirt, a kind of Magyar fried hamburger. Whether fried or charbroiled, the Hungarian hamburger would usually be served between two pieces of rye bread, cheese optional. It had flavor. And if we wanted vegetables, they would be there on the plate, fresh from our garden, rather than piled high over the meat patty.

The same goes for meatballs. If you get matballs and spaghetti in an Italian-American restaurant, the meatballs will usually be plain meat. Our late landlady made her meatballs the Old Country way, buy adding seasonings to the meat before cooking it.

It’s a simple technique, perhaps a little time-consuming, but it tastes ever so much better than the plain unadorned ground meat.