Hamburger a go go

Back in San Bernardino where I grew up, hamburgers are something maybe a bit more special than other places. This is the town where the McDonald brothers, Richard and Maurice, first opened their hamburger restaurant back in the late forties. Although it wasn't until the mid-fifties that Ray Kroc bought his first McDonald's franchise in Illinois and turned it into a phenomenon, Southern California in 1948 is definitely the home of the modern burger. I remember my mom piling my sister and three brothers into the station wagon when our dad was out of town, and driving to McDonald's, where we always ordered the same thing: burgers, fries and shakes. I can't even begin to think about the calories or the fat content. I ate so many hamburgers in my childhood and my adolescence that I should have had premature hardening of the arteries. I remember the first time I saw the sign above our local McDonald's which proudly proclaimed "Over Two Billion Served". It seemed beyond comprehension, at least in 1964. My sister, brothers and I were all pretty lanky, slightly blonde and always tan from the sun. We were Southern California children straight out of central casting, with a mom who looked like Doris Day except prettier, the aforementioned station wagon, a friendly Irish Setter named Kelly and all those hamburgers. We fought over car space, dripping ketchup on our new striped "surfer T shirts", and general sibling issues. It never occurred to us that hamburgers actually had a history, and quite a long one at that.

According to Wikipedia, a common theory is that the word "hamburger" originated in Hamburg, Germany. The hamburger as ground meat can be traced back to the Mongols, who carried flat patties of lamb or mutton as a food source. Mongol riders would place the meat under the saddle; the saddle would tenderize the meat and the meat would be eaten raw. It gave the Mongols the ability to carry food, and eat it, all without dismounting from the horse. When the Mongols invaded Moscow, the hamburger was also brought and in turn was adopted as a cuisine named "steak tartare" after the invading Mongols, known as "the Tarters". Later, the German port of Hamburg had ships that visited a Baltic (by that time Russian) port and thus brought with it the new "tartare steak" as they would later call it. Ships from Hamburg, Germany coincidently shipped to New York also, and brought what is now known as the Hamburg steak. Within Germany, the specific connection between the food and the city of Hamburg became lost as the sandwich spread throughout the country and became a somewhat common dish. In other countries, the historical term "Hamburger" remained in popular usage to describe ground meat rolls and sandwiches.

I had never had pizza until I visited New York City in the early seventies. Pizza, like bagels, were very unusual in California, and did not hit the mainstream until later in the decade. I was definitely a West Coast Baby Boomer, right smack in the middle of the American Hamburger generation. When we stopped ordering burgers in favor of the more hip pizza scene, it was a little like abandoning a teen idol we might have worshipped when we were young. Put it this way---turning my back on hamburgers for pizza was like abandoning the Monkees in favor of The Velvet Underground. I vowed I would never eat another hamburger. They were disgusting and fattening-- for moms and kids and dogs in station wagons. Plus I was sure Andy Warhol and his cronies weren't eating hamburgers. Brian Wilson had even had a nervous breakdown so The Beach Boys weren't recording songs about the fabulousness of Southern California culture.
What comes around goes around, especially in fashion. Thin women dressed in Chanel can now be seen ordering hamburgers at Neiman Marcus and Barney's. What is even funnier is that hamburgers taste good. Now you can have them with all kinds of expensive cheeses, bacon, avocados and special dressings. They usually cost about ten dollars, as compared with the 59 cents my mom paid for each of our burgers, and come with French fries. The only hitch is that we need to watch for ketchup drip on our Chanel jackets. For most of us Baby Boomers, music memories of The Velvet Underground are a bit hazy, while most of us can probably sing a few bars of Day Dream Believer or California Girls. Put it this way---hamburgers are having a couture moment.
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