The Chinese hamburger is the first-ever hamburger in the world, and you didn’t even know that. At least I didn’t, so you’re not completely alone in your ignorance here. Forget all your previous notions of the origin of the hamburger, because it’s neither German nor American – it’s Chinese. Like a lot of other things.
This particular burger is known as roujiamo, which could be translated to “meat burger” or “meat sandwich”. How do you pronounce it?
Say it with me:
So What Is The Chinese Hamburger?
The roujiamo consist of chopped meat inside a pita-like bun. The typical bread used here has been around since the Qin dynasty. The meat since the Zhou dynasty. You could google the exact year, but safe to say that this pre-dates any modern hamburger type made in the late 1800’s.
The rou jia mo is a kind of sandwich where the meat plays the center part. Originated in the Shaanxi Province of China, it’s enjoyed all over the country today. It’s typically prepared and eaten on the street. The dough for the bun, or mo, consists of a simple mixture of wheat flour, water and maybe yeast. Inside the pita-like pocket, which is the “mo” part of its name, you can find chopped pork, beef or lamb, stewed in a soup of spices and mixed with greens like cilantro, green peppers, or shredded lettuce.
The Bun Makes The Difference
The bun, or the mo, is pretty similar to pitas and steamed buns. The way it’s prepared is that it’s baked in a clay oven, giving it a crispy exterior while at the same time maintaining a soft interior. But since everybody’s so busy these days, the traditional way of making it has gone over to using a pressure cooker or a frying pan.
But of course, with the bun’s simplicity comes distinctive variations. These differences make the rou jia mo a street food than can vary a lot from vendor to vendor, making the Chinese hamburger pretty regional. Exciting, right?
Something that’s interesting is that no matter how many regional variations you may find, the rou jia mo is still considered a crowd-favorite and staple of Chinese street food.
Many Alternative Fillings Available
Very true. in Muslim areas in Xi’an, the meat is usually beef (prepared kabab-style and seasoned with cumin and pepper), and in Gansu it is often lamb. The meat is then minced or chopped, then mixed with coriander and mild peppers. Depending on the types of spices used to cook the meat and the way the bread is made, the taste of roujiamo can vary greatly from vendor to vendor.
A lot of these vendors have rechristened the hamburger depending on the styles they create. For example, the la zhi roujiamo (or lazhi roujiamo, Chinese: 腊汁肉夹馍), which is a roujiamo with special gravy. Another name for it is bai ji la zhi roujiamo (or baiji lazhi roujiamo), which means roujiamo with special gravy in a bread (bai ji is a specific type of bread).
What Does The Roujiamo Have To Do With Turtles?
Absolutely nothing. Sorry for the clickbait-style title there, but what led me to write this was this news article about a Chinese man hiding his turtle in a hamburger because he loved the turtle so much that he couldn’t travel without it. Thought you might wanna know that.
Anyways: If you never had a Chinese hamburger before, now is the time to book a plane to China. Imagine standing in front of a food stand in the Muslim district of Xi’an waiting to get served a freshly made Chinese hamburger like in the video below.
Not planning on heading to the Eastern Hemisphere any time soon? Find a local restaurant specialising in Xi’an cuisine. The Flushing neighborhood of Queens, New York has a number of eateries and areas with authentic Chinese offerings.