Dave Jones’ Cafe Beat

Food & Drink Opinions - October 4th, 1985

I see where Hamburg cele­brated the 100th anniversary of the hamburger in August. But it was Hamburg, New York, not Hamburg, West Germany.

According to the news story I read, two brothers, pork sausage venders, set up shop in the former city when it was holding a fair in 1885. Their sausages were so popular they quickly ran out. They had to go to the meat market for help.

Having also run out of its pork supply, it could provide the brothers with only five pounds of ground beef. The brothers made patties of them, added a little brown sugar and coffee powder (something I’ve never done but perhaps should try), fried them — and the hamburger was born.

The news item also said that cultural historians are mystified by the New York town’s claim to fame, as they assume the hamburger hails from Ger­many’s Hamburg. I have news for those cultural historians. A hamburger exists only as a hamburger steak there and is a steak fried with onions.

When I had a hamburger steak there, I inquired as to whether anything like a ham­burger made of ground beef could be found in the city. Nobody, not even the city’s tourist department, could tell me. But they did assure me that, if I could find one, it would be an American import. That was before the American fast-food chains had begun to spread like a cancer through the world.

Undoubtedly, you can buy a hamburger as Americans know it in Germany’s Hamburg today, but it would be from one of those fast-food chains.

It was interesting for me to read that story, having gone to such trouble to ascertain whether the hamburger had originated in Germany, as the version put out by the New York town makes more sense to me than what the cultural historians assume. When you can’t find something in the supposed city of its birth, how could it have originated there?

The story brought up thoughts of the origin of other popular foods. There is no doubt that the frankfurter originated in Frankfurt. Go there and you will find all sorts of wursts or sausages available in little stands every­where, but the mainstay is the frankfurter, the hot dog of the Americans.

The weenie which, in the United States, is a synonym for the frankfurter, is derived from the sausages made in Vienna or Wien, but it is nothing like those tasteless, small canned Vienna sausages one sometimes finds at cock­tail parties. The wiener is what the frankfurter becomes when it travels to Vienna.

Then there is the origin of chili. I cannot verify this story, but I like to believe it’s true. It is said that chili was in­vented by an Englishman in Texas who had spent some time in India and wanted to make a curry powder using chili, since some of the Indian ingredients were lacking.

As for pizza, I’m firmly con­vinced it originated in Naples, despite what Nicola Koizumi ne Zappetti of Nicola’s, the man who introduced the pizza to Japan, says. But I’ll offer both versions here to let you take your choice. The Nea­politans insist the pizza was invented during a pie-baking contest in Naples held in the 1860s. Someone put together mozzarella cheese, tomato puree on some pastry and baked it. It was a great hit.

Koizumi ne Zappetti insists with equal vehemence that the pizza originated among the Italian community in New York. The children kept ask­ing their mothers for a apiece of pie,” which was pronounced, “pizza pie.” To satisfy their demands, someone baked an open pie filled with cheese and tomato puree.

There you are; so take your choice. What influences me is the great popularity achieved by the pizza after World War II, when the American soldiers returned from Italy. Before World War II you could not find a pizza shop around, at least in San Francisco, where I grew up. San Francisco, too, has a large Italian-American population, or haven’t you heard of the Di Maggios?