Posted on September 2, 2018 by Andrew Armstrong
What happens when hamburger meets taco by way of a steamed bun? It’s a rou jia mo, “meat between bread,” better known as the Chinese hamburger. It’s the new way to satisfy your munchies with ambrosial street food, Chinese style.
This Asian edition of the hamburger originated in China’s Shaanxi Province centuries ago and gradually spread all over the country. Proving that good food is appreciated everywhere, its popularity is now worldwide.
Smaller than American burgers, these tasty treats are standard Chinese street food. People have been eating them since the Qin dynasty. That makes them the “world’s first hamburger,” available for hungry diners about 2100 years before burgers from the first McDonald’s.
According to a professor at Northwest University in Xi’an, the idea to put meat between bread started with cooks in the palace. The royals loved it. As word spread, it became the food of choice among people of every rank, from workers to nobles.
In recent years the Chinese hamburger has appeared on menus in restaurants and at street carts worldwide. One vendor in front of New York’s Columbia University said he can easily sell over 100 a day.
In China, street vendor operations selling the Chinese hamburger can be elaborate. Servers choose ingredients from 10 or 15 bowls, as they assemble the rou jia mo to each customer’s specifications.
Restaurants in the U.S. are adapting the rou jia mo to meet local tastes, an evolution that many Asian dishes undergo. For example, a Mexican-Chinese restaurant in Las Vegas has a version using pork with a bit of Mexican cinnamon and crema. But clearly the best place to enjoy an authentic and delicious Chinese hamburger is at none other than Dim Sum USA in Foster City, California!
Instead of a hamburger bun, the rou jia mo uses a pita-style bun, usually baked in a clay oven but sometimes pan-fried. They are small enough to hold in one hand, making the finished burger convenient for eating on the go.
The wrapping look much like Chinese steamed buns. The dough is made with wheat flour, yeast and water. It’s a simple combination, but the bun takes on a special chewy texture that lets the taste of the filling shine through.
Just like the American version, meat is the heart of this burger. Chopped pork is a favorite, but beef, lamb, chicken and sometimes donkey are also used, depending where in China it is made.
Whatever is used, the meat is thinly sliced, tender and full of flavor. It is always slow cooked with a variety of spices. Different parts of China use their own selection of flavoring, but especially popular are star anise, cloves, ginger and coriander.
The mix is usually topped with fresh vegetables like green onions, shredded lettuce and cilantro. Other additions might include noodles, pickled green beans and chili sauce.
Looking for the latest and greatest in fast food? Give this centuries-old favorite a try!