Mexico Gave The American Hamburger A Spicy Twist
Hamburgers are not foreign to Mexicans. The quintessential American meal resembles Mexican tortas, a common type of sandwich stuffed with all sorts of meats.
Hamburgers were born in America at the end of the 19th century, when sailors coming from Hamburg, Germany, gave the meat recipe to an American chef named Louis Lassen. He put the meat between two slices of bread, creating one of the most popular foods worldwide.
A restaurant called Chanteclair introduced hamburgers to Mexico in the 1930s, including them on its menu as Beefsteak a la Hamburger — for 75 cents.
Mexicans soon adopted hamburgers as a casual food option. Later, the recipe began to vary as Mexicans mixed the meat with eggs and seasoned it with spices. Instead of just grilling them, they fried the hamburgers in oil, butter or lard.
American hamburgers were fully established in Mexico by the 1990s, when fast-food chains reached its main cities. Hoping to appeal to the children’s market, they offered small hamburgers, French fries and a soft drink, accompanied by a toy, the main attraction for the smallest consumers.
At the same time, mobile carts multiplied, offering home-style hamburgers and hot dogs. Mexicans brought out their creativity by adding new ingredients, including string cheese, sausage, chorizo, bacon, avocado, pineapple, ham and pork rinds. They also added various sauces or peppers, such as chipotle or habanero, pineapple with onion, chile de árbol in olive oil, sour cream, Worcestershire sauce, and Maggi sauce.
“What we sell the most is the choriqueso [chorizo and cheese] hamburger,” said Sebastián Landa Martínez, a Mexican griller and vendor at La Tía street stall in Veracruz. “This hamburger has meat, lettuce, tomato, onion and string cheese melted on the grill, with Argentine chorizo enhancing its flavor. It also has bacon. Clients may add the pepper or sauce of their choice, as well as pork rinds, which is the garnish they love the most.”
Mexicans have Mexicanized hamburgers by making them from chicken or shrimp, as well as beef. With new trends arriving from abroad, hamburger places in Mexico began to offer vegan burgers.
“People seldom ask for a chicken burger. However, we make them, either with chicken nuggets or breast medallions,” said Landa Martínez. “The flavor changes, but not the garnishes. When it comes to pleasing the clients’ palates, one can break all genres.”
(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Melanie Slone and Fern Siegel.)