The world's first hamburger doesn't come from where you think it comes from. It wasn't invented in the United States, and it didn't originate in Germany. No, the world's first hamburger comes from China.
If you're scratching your head right now, you're not alone. But Chinese hamburgers are very real and they definitely predate the hamburgers we call our own in the U.S. Known as rou jia mo, which translates to "meat burger" or "meat sandwich," they consist of chopped meat inside a pita-like bun, and they've been around since the Qin dynasty, from about 221 BC to 207 BC. Despite the differences between this Chinese street food and our American-style burgers, the rou jia mo "has been called the world's first hamburger."
The rou jia mo originated in the Shaanxi Province of China, and is now eaten all over the country. It's typically prepared and eaten on the street. The dough for the bun, or mo, consists of a simple mixture of wheat flour, water and maybe yeast. Of course recipes may vary, but this basic equation makes for a chewy and subtle pillow for the delicious filling. While the mo is traditionally baked in a clay oven, today it's often fried in a pan. They may look a little like Chinese steamed buns or baos, but the dough for those are, of course, steamed, not baked or fried.
The meat filling might consist of chopped pork, beef, lamb or chicken that has been stewed with a variety of spices, like ginger, cloves, coriander and star anise. You might also find herbs like cilantro or greens like lettuce garnishing the sandwich.
If you've never had a Chinese hamburger, now is as great a time as any to try one. See here for a recipe for rou ji mo, or watch the video below for step-by-step instructions for another great Chinese hamburger recipe.