All TopicsNewsCultureJapanese Snacks & CandyFood & DrinkTravelEntertainmentMember Spotlight
TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogJapanese Hamburg Steak: A Steak’s Journey

Japanese Hamburg Steak: A Steak’s Journey

James LauJames Lau
Published Time
Posted on 
March 19, 2022
Modified Time
Updated last 
August 20, 2022

The Japanese Hamburg Steak – a favorite among children and a classic taste-trip for adults. More similar to a Salisbury steak than a typical American hamburger, there’s an interesting story of how the hamburger steak cemented itself into Japan’s rich food culture.

What is Japanese Hamburg Steak?

Also known as Hamburger steak (hambagu), this dish is a popular menu item in Japanese family restaurants across the country. This dish uses meat patties made from a mix of ground beef and pork, sautéed onions for sweetness and texture, garlic for flavor, eggs to bind the ingredients together, panko bread crumbs, and milk to keep the steak juicy and tender. 

It’s usually seasoned with salt, pepper, and soy sauce. A blend of Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, and Japanese sake may also be used to make a sauce to season it even more.

A Japanese Hamburg steak with a cheese filling sits in a skillet with corn, carrots, broccoli and roasted potatoes in the same skillet.
Some tasty, modern versions include a cheesy filling for an even more lavish experience. Image via Shutterstock

It is then cooked in a piping hot pan until browned to perfection before being put onto a regular plate or a cast iron plate to help retain the heat.

Hamburg steak is served with your choice of sauce and comes with a side dish, like potatoes or Japanese rice. It can also have a variety of toppings with a fried egg being very common.

Can’t get enough of Japanese food and snacks? Check out TokyoTreat! TokyoTreat will help to satisfy those cravings with the latest Japanese snacks, sweets, drinks, and more, including TokyoTreat exclusives! Perfect for tackling those Japanese food cravings!

Hamburg, Not Hamburger!

The origin of the Japanese Hamburg steak comes, not from the American hamburger patty between the buns, but actually from steak tartare. It is said that the horse-riding Tatars of Central Asia also used the horse that they took on their expeditions as food. Since the horse meat was tough and hard to eat, the meat was minced into smaller pieces. 

When the Tatars invaded Europe in the 13th century, steak tartare was brought to many countries like France, Belgium, and most notably, Germany.

By the 18th century, the citizens of Hamburg, Germany had begun to cook minced meat with breadcrumbs, forming them into the patty shape that we know today. This was called “frikadelle” or “frikadellen” in German. The dish grew in popularity among the workers and soon became a typical German home-cooked dish. 

A Japanese Hamburg steak sits on a white plate with a topping of sauce and a fried egg with potatoes, carrots, and broccoli in the background.
No one is quite sure when, where, or why the egg topping came about. But we love the pairing either way! Image via Shutterstock

Soon, the dish spread across the continent and became an international hit when German immigrants brought the dish to the United States. However, one of the main problems of the dish at the time was the quality of the meat. 

Hamburg was close to Holstein, Germany, known for the world-famous cow breed, Holstein, and produced high-quality beef from their prized cattle. On the other hand, American cows were not of the same quality, so the quality of the meat was low. 

However, the Hamburg steak remained popular among Americans until someone came up with the idea to sandwich the patty in between two slices of bread, creating the hamburger. As a result, the original Hamburg steak would dwindle in popularity. However, Salisbury steak became popular as a cheaper alternative due to the addition of pork with beef.

Arrival in Japan

A Japanese Hamburg Steak made with beef sits on a plate with a topping of shiso leaf, grated white radish and soy sauce, alongside corn, carrots, and brocolli.
This kind of Hamburg steak is particularly Japanese, featuring a white radish and soy sauce topping that is popular for some Japanese dishes. Image via Shutterstock

While Japan followed a strict Buddhist diet that didn’t really allow eating meat for many years, the Meiji period brought a wave of change that affected the country’s diet as well. Yoshoku (Western-style Japanese dishes) slowly became more common in the country, including the first iteration of Hamburg-style steak. This first version consisted of ground beef sprinkled with flour, baked in fat and oil, and served in tomato sauce. 

Like most yoshoku cuisine, Hamburg steak was eventually adapted to Japanese tastes near the end of the Meiji period and became similar to modern Hamburg steaks in terms of preparation and ingredients.

After the Second World War, meat became more widely available, and Hamburg steaks gained a reputation among housewives for being a great, money-saving way to use cheaper ground meats like pork and chicken to supplement the more expensive ground beef. The dish spread across the country, becoming a household favorite. In fact, it’s often a part of any Japanese person’s top 5 yoshoku dishes.

Hamburg Today (not the city)

A Japanese Hamburg Steak with a lighter complexion, made from chicken and tofu and topped with grated radish, soy sauce and green onions, sits on a white plate with a salad.
The Japan factor is upped with this Hamburg Steak, which is made with chicken and tofu! Image via Shutterstock

Today, Hamburg steak is enjoyed in a variety of places like family restaurants, school cafeterias, dedicated Hamburg steak restaurants, and yoshoku restaurants. Over time, Japanese Hamburg steak has taken on new forms and even incorporated Japanese tastes into its dish.

Hamburg steaks also play with what it means to be a steak. In 1962, the Marushin Hamburg Steak made of whale meat and tuna was released to the public, while the Ishii Chicken Hamburg Steak was released in 1970. 

Hamburg steaks adapted even more to the Japanese taste, managing to use soy sauce to create Wafuu (Japanese-style) Hamburg steaks. It also uses teriyaki sauce or grated daikon (white radish) and ponzu sauce (a citrus-based sauce) to dress the meat. 

Rare Hamburg steaks have also started to make an appearance, just like how someone would order a regular steak to their desired doneness. Simmered Hamburg steaks are also part of the new trend of Hamburg steaks, being stewed in a rich sauce. 

There is also a cooking technique where mushrooms and vegetables are wrapped around the steak with aluminum foil to cook the Hamburg steak.

Did you enjoy learning about the history of Japanese Hamburg steak? What is your favorite way to eat this dish? Tell us in the comments below!

Enjoy Delicious Japanese Candy And Snacks Every Month!

Enjoy Delicious Japanese Candy And Snacks Every Month!

Starting from $32.50 USD

Get TokyoTreat

Author avatar
James Lau

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

A shinobi dressed in all black with a large hat on their head and stick in hand, squatting on a rock in a forest.

Shinobi Snacks Galore: The Best Foods to Have!

In feudal Japan, a legendary group known as the shinobi, masters of stealth and espionage, whose skills shaped history in the shadows. These invisible warriors shaped the course of history with every silent step they took!

May 16, 2024
Platters of nigirizushi, an example of Tokyo food.

Tokyo Food You Must Try in the City!

Tokyo is known for being one of the most fantastic food paradises in the world! There’s so much to eat and thousands of restaurants waiting to be discovered!

May 16, 2024
The outside of McDonald's Japan.

McDonald’s Japan Holiday Menus: Popular Ones to Check Out!

McDonald’s Japan is genuinely famous for its unique and innovative holiday menus. Let’s explore the five most popular ones!

April 25, 2024
A hamburg on a plate at a family resturants.

Family Restaurants in Japan: Five Amazing Ones to Enjoy!

If you need help deciding where to dine after sightseeing or having fun in Japan, head to one of the family restaurants! Here, we also want to introduce you to five popular and must-try brands in Japan!

April 25, 2024
A person pouring liquor at a unique bar that might serve kakigori.

Kakigori Café and More: Five Unique Bars in Tokyo!

The Kakigori Cafe is just one of many establishments in Tokyo where you can enjoy unique drinks!

April 25, 2024
A ninja holding a sword, maybe getting ready to enjoy ninja food.

Ninja Food: What Makes It So Special?

Across Japan, you can find many restaurants or cafes with shinobi style, serving ninja food and drinks. Explore some natural shinobi foods and dishes that capture this cultural style!

April 12, 2024
PricingBeginner’s Guide to TokyoTreatUpcoming BoxPast boxes
Support & Information
FAQContactHelp CenterBlog

Be a TokyoTreat Insider!

Join our newsletter and receive tasty news and deals!

AnIchigo Logobrand.
Copyright © 2024 TokyoTreat™. All Rights Reserved.
Accepted Payments
Visa payment availableMastercard payment availableAmerican Express payment availableDiscover payment availablePayPal payment available